Williamson's first matchup with Sixers and more to watch Friday night


The 35-16 Sixers traveled back to Philadelphia after their win Tuesday in Boston, taking advantage of a rare two days in between games to practice on home turf.

Friday’s game in New Orleans is the second of a four-game road swing. Here are the essentials for their game against the 22-29 Pelicans:

  • When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7:15 p.m. 
  • Where: Smoothie King Center 
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia  
  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Sixers almost all healthy, Ball out

George Hill spoke Thursday about his rehabilitation process following right thumb surgery in February. He’ll be back “sooner than expected,” he said, though there’s no timeline for his return.

Hill was the only Sixer to appear on Thursday night’s injury report. Meanwhile, New Orleans is without Villanova product Josh Hart after he also had surgery on his right thumb. Nickeil Alexander-Walker (left ankle sprain) is out, too. 

The most significant absence for the Pelicans is starting point guard Lonzo Ball (left hip soreness). Brandon Ingram and Kira Lewis Jr. are available after being listed as questionable with injuries.

Williamson vs. Sixers for the first time 

The Sixers avoided Zion Williamson as a rookie last season because of his right knee injury. They’re not so fortunate this year. 

The Pelicans are currently out of a playoff spot under head coach Stan Van Gundy, but Williamson earned his first All-Star selection and has been one of the NBA’s best offensive players. He’s averaged 26.3 points on a 66.0 true shooting percentage and recorded 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. A whopping 84 percent of Williamson’s shot attempts have been at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass.

“He keeps getting better,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said Thursday. “He’s so much more than a dunker. He’s a playmaker at his size. His speed and power are really unmatched in a lot of ways. You’ve got to keep him square. He’s starting to shoot the little 15-footer well. He’s just going to be one of those guys that’s going to keep getting better and better — and fast. What he’s doing right now is historic, and it’s just going to keep happening.”

Sixers’ success at creating turnovers 

One key to the Sixers’ victory at TD Garden was their 20-13 turnover advantage over Boston.

The team's improvement at forcing turnovers this season is an important reason why it's been one of the league’s top defenses. The Sixers rank within the top 10 in opponents’ turnover percentage (15.0), per Cleaning the Glass. Last season, they finished 22nd (13.9 percent). 

Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons and Danny Green are all among the top 15 in total steals. That perimeter trio is always worth watching defensively. 

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