PHILADELPHIA — Two of the Pelicans’ most glaring weaknesses this season showed up Wednesday night.
Against the 76ers, an Anthony Davis missed free throw, collected by Joel Embiid, was thrown into the air as time expired. The Pelicans got off to a slow start, and they lost on the road 121-120.
The loss brought the Pelicans to 2-7 away from home, while Philadelphia moved to 10-0 at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Pelicans managed to win each of the final three quarters, but dug themselves too big a hole early, going into the second down by 15 points.
Jrue Holiday and E'twaun Moore both scored 30 points in the comeback effort, but Davis missed the last of three free throw attempts with 2.6 seconds left after Embiid fouled him on a desperation heave.
“Games are not won on the last play of the game,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We didn’t start the game the right way. When you dig yourself a hole and then you come back and you dig yourself a hole and come back, eventually that comeback that you make that should give you separation just gets you even. … I thought that we were just shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Gentry’s team entered Wednesday in the bottom five in the NBA in first quarter efficiency, being outscored by opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions.
They rank last in points allowed per game in the first quarter, giving up 31.4 points per game to opponents.
“It’s tough when we’re playing from behind the whole game, everything has to go right,” Davis said. “We get so far behind that the games have to go perfect for us.”
In a battle between two of the NBA’s most dominant big men, Davis struggled offensively against the 7-foot-2 Embiid.
Davis entered the game averaging 27.6 points per game, but only scored 12 on 4-of-13 shooting while primarily being guarded by Embiid and Sixers’ reserve big man Amir Johnson. The All-Star big man did manage six assists, five blocks, and five steals in the loss.
Embiid, who entered Wednesday’s game averaging 27.9 points, had 31 points, 19 rebounds, and two blocks. He was mostly guarded by Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle while Davis stuck Sixers’ point guard Ben Simmons.
“Embiid definitely should be an MVP candidate,” Gentry said. “Every night he does it, he gets the numbers and they’re winning basketball games.”
The Pelicans have now lost seven of their past eight games away from home. They’re averaging nearly nine fewer points per game when they’re on the road, while turning the ball over almost three more times a game.
Gentry and Davis think the road woes stem from falling behind early and not being able to overcome the deficit in enemy territory.
“We’re coming out flat,” Davis said. “We’re not coming out with the same energy that we do at home. … It’s tough to win on the road as it is and then we make it tougher for ourselves.”
“We haven’t played consistently on the road like we’ve played at home,” Gentry said. “We’ve been in a lot of games on the road where we’ve played well, but we have to play consistently for 48 minutes and that’s where we’ve struggled a little bit.”
On the bright side, the Pelicans’ next two opponents aren’t undefeated at home, and don’t have an MVP candidate protecting the rim.
They’ll play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden at 6:30 p.m. Friday, and then travel to Washington to play the Wizards at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“New York gave us a tough one at home, so we have to make sure that we go out there and win on the road,” Davis said. “Going to any opponents arena is a tough game but we definitely have to play better.”