PHILADELPHIA — The New Orleans Pelicans sure looked like they missed having Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday in the lineup.
The Pelicans rolled into town facing a team that has lost 16 of its first 18 games at home and had won only seven overall. But the 76ers took charge from the opening tip and ran wire-to-wire for a 96-81 victory.
The Pelicans (19-20) learned in the pregame shoot-around that they would be without Davis, who had been battling a left toe sprain that eventually shelved him for the evening, and Holiday, who was questionable with an ankle injury after he gingerly practiced Thursday.
Still, coach Monty Williams believed his club could gain its second victory against an Eastern Conference team, an issue that has plagued the Pelicans throughout the season.
But the energized Sixers stormed to a 9-2 lead in the first three minutes and gradually built a 22-6 advantage before the Pelicans began to show some life.
The Sixers — who have won three of five — scored a season-high 33 points in the opening quarter and shot a season-high 62.5 percent in the first 12 minutes, making 15 of 24 shots en route to a 33-22 lead.
Philadelphia took advantage of Davis’ absence in the middle, outscoring the Pelicans frontcourt 27-15 in the opening half and 48-20 overall behind a stellar effort from center Nerlens Noel, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Michael Carter-Williams was a thorn in the Pelicans’ side as well, showcasing an effective outside game as well as driving to the basket for a game-high 22 points.
Eric Gordon led the Pelicans with 16 points, and backup center Alexis Ajinca added a season-high 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. The Pelicans shot 38.7 from the field and committed 18 turnovers; they couldn’t get any closer than 15 points in the final quarter.
A bright spot was the play of the Pelicans bench, which combined for 41 points. Jimmer Fredette had 13 of those.
“We didn’t play team basketball, and we fell too far behind early,” Williams said. “We had some chances to cut into their lead, but we couldn’t take advantage of it. We were missing (Davis and Holiday), but if we play the kind of basketball we can play, it shouldn’t matter.
“We thought we had crossed some hurdles (with Wednesday’s win at Detroit), and we didn’t have to look back. Our bench did help us get back into it with some runs, but we just couldn’t put it all together.”
The Pelicans did cut the deficit to 52-51 on Omer Asik’s layup with 10:41 left in the third quarter, but the Sixers responded with a 14-0 run, mainly behind Carter-Williams’ play and also sparked by Noel’s presence down low. Philadelphia was in control the rest of the way.
“We played awful,” said forward Ryan Anderson, who had eight points and eight rebounds but hit just 2 of 11 shots and was 1-of-4 from beyond the arc. “We really didn’t move the ball enough and play the way we can.”
The Pelicans continue their five-game road trip with a game at Toronto on Sunday and conclude it with an afternoon tilt against the Knicks in New York on Monday.
“We have to put this behind us and regroup,” Anderson said. “We just have to quickly regroup and move on.”