NBA Predictions: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Philadelphia 76ers Picks and More
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Philadelphia 76ers
When: Wednesday, October 20, 8:00 p.m. ET
Where to Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Spread: 76ers -3
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Philadelphia 76ers Prediction
The NBA preseason is supposed to be a time when hope springs eternal. Everyone is in the best shape of their lives, with 15 more pounds of muscle (excuse me…lean muscle), an open agenda to play faster and shoot more threes, and of course, rosters full of guys who are on the same page, ready to win with defense, and are selflessly committed to the team’s larger goals.
Everywhere, that is, except in New Orleans and Philadelphia.
It’s hard to pick which one of those two had the worse stretch from media day to opening night, but aside from Brooklyn - still your favorites to win it all - there are no other contenders for the top three spots.
Let’s start with Philly, who still has plenty of reasons to be hopeful about what lies ahead, what with the NBA’s runner-up for MVP and a returning roster that was responsible for the East’s best record last season. It also sounds like the two guys with day-to-day designations, starter Tobias Harris (knee) and All-Defense candidate Matisse Thybulle (shoulder), will play. Most importantly, Joel Embiid is healthy and (if one had to guess) motivated to show the world just how far this team can go with only one “star” on the active roster.
All that being what it is, it’s impossible to know where this team’s head is at with the ongoing Ben Simmons drama unfolding by the day. The latest news – Simmons getting tossed from practice by Doc Rivers for reportedly not being mentally or physically engaged, resulting in a one-game suspension that will cause him to miss the season opener – can be taken two ways. Will Rivers’ actions inspire the team to show Simmons just how much he isn’t needed? Or will his impending return serve as too much of a distraction for the rest of the players to focus on the task at hand? There’s no way to know for sure.
Making matters more complicated is the fact that Shake Milton, the best option to fill Simmons’ shoes, has already been ruled out. That leaves talented but untested sophomore, Tyrese Maxey as the next man up at point guard. Maxey had strong per-36 minute averages of 19 points, nearly five assists, and four rebounds, but the team struggled during his time on the court, getting outscored by 52 points in those 936 minutes last season. Things should go considerably better alongside Philly’s key guys, though.
As for New Orleans, only one player is slated to miss the game, but he’s kind of a big deal. Zion Williamson isn’t only the Pelican’s best player, but after they started putting the ball in his hands as a quasi-point guard at the end of last season, the alpha and the omega of their offense as well. New Orleans had the equivalent of a bottom eight net rating without Zion on the court last season and went 2-9 in the games he missed. Yikes.
On top of all that, there seems to be an air of mystery (best case) or distrust (worst case) surrounding the organization with how they’ve handed Zion’s injuries thus far. Like it is with the Sixers, it’s impossible to know what effect this will have on the team as a whole, with a brand new coach and four new starters from last season’s opening night.
The bet here is that talent wins out. Of course, the preseason should always be taken with a grain of salt, but New Orleans’ disastrous showing in their last few games shouldn’t be completely ignored. Assuming Thybulle plays, Philly will also have a perfect option to shadow Brandon Ingram, who himself was banged up towards the end of the preseason.
During last year’s tip-off week, road teams won 8 of 19 games outright. This spread is small enough to feel good about going with the visiting squad.
Pelicans vs. 76ers Pick
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
When: Wednesday, October 20, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where to Watch: ESPN
Spread: Knicks -2
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics Prediction
One bonus game because I can’t let opening night at MSG go by without comment.
New York has been getting disrespected all preseason long, with most prognosticators viewing them as a third-tier East team behind the leaders of the pack (Brooklyn and Milwaukee) and the second grouping composed of Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, and yes, Boston. In other words, if ever this team needed some extra motivation entering the season, they didn’t have to wait long for it.
Not that Boston should be considered third-tier themselves. The Celtics are coming off something of a season from hell, having used 37 different starting lineups and playing less than a quarter of their games with all four of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and new Knick Kemba Walker healthy and available.
Replacing Walker is Dennis Schroder, who will work behind and alongside Smart, plus Josh Richardson coming over from Dallas. The Celtics also traded for Al Horford, but he’ll be missing this game due to health and safety protocols.
The key to this game could come down to Boston’s ability to make threes. Last season, Boston’s lone win vs. the Knicks came on a wide-open Marcus Smart 3-pointer, which was fitting for a Tom Thibodeau-coached squad that gave up a ton of long balls but usually to the right guys and/or with someone flying at the shooter like a bat out of hell. Unfortunately, all three of Smart, Schroder, and Richardson are questionable 3-point shooters. Without Horford to space the floor, Boston may have to turn to younger players like Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith to provide some horizontal gravity.
That should provide an excellent opportunity for New York’s new-look offense to cook, armed not only with Walker but another ex-Celtic in Evan Fournier and a healthy (if slightly out of game shape) Mitchell Robinson.
And then there is this wrinkle: would Thibodeau dare challenge ex-Knick and current Celtic backup Enes Kanter with a small-ball alignment of Obi Toppin and Julius Randle? To put it lightly, Kanter is still a menace on the boards but has his challenges in space and guarding pick and rolls.
It’s MSG, it’s opening night, and it’s a Knick team with something to prove. The spread is small enough to feel good about taking the home team.