The surging Philadelphia 76ers will look to take one step closer to the top seed in the Eastern Conference as the playoffs approach.
The first-place Sixers (45-21) hold a two-game lead over the second-place Brooklyn Nets and will be in search of their seventh consecutive victory when they host the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.
Philadelphia completed a three-game road trip by routing the depleted Houston Rockets 135-115 on Wednesday thanks in large part to Joel Embiid's 34 points and 12 rebounds.
While recent Philadelphia opponents have not been championship-caliber, the Sixers won't downplay three consecutive road victories. If they harbor championship aspirations, winning away from home will be crucial.
"That's one of the things we talked about," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. "We have to win on the road and we're doing it. And we have to keep doing it."
They also will need to keep winning at home to secure home-court advantage for as long as possible. The Sixers are a much better team at home with a 25-7 record.
"For me, the one seed is very important," Embiid said. "Every game we play at home, it just feels like we're unbeatable. So we just gotta keep pushing, keep grinding out these wins and do our best to keep winning."
Sixers point guard Ben Simmons scored only 10 points against the Rockets and continues to be criticized by the passionate fan base for his unwillingness to shoot jumpers.
"I don't care, he works on everything," Rivers said. "He really does. We're working on right- and left-hand hooks, fadeaways, but I just want him to keep playing. I'm not worried about his shot selection right now."
The Pelicans (30-36) were 1 1/2 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for 10th place in the Western Conference before the start of NBA play Thursday. The Pelicans need to reach 10th to qualify for the play-in tournament.
In their most recent game, New Orleans defeated the Golden State Warriors 108-103. Lonzo Ball was stellar with 33 points while Zion Williamson had 23 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
But New Orleans will have a daunting challenge against the Sixers since Brandon Ingram has been ruled out with a left ankle sprain and is day-to-day moving forward. Ingram has averaged 23.8 points per game.
Ball tied his career-high in scoring against the Warriors and figures to be counted on for a healthy scoring game Friday.
"I know what I can do on the court and I didn't step up to the plate last game," Ball said. "I wanted to be there for the guys, especially Zion. He's going out every night basically getting 30 and 10 for us. For me to have the type of performance I had (Monday against the Warriors) is pretty unacceptable, especially at this time of the year. I wanted to fix it."
Ball had just seven points and was 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first meeting this week against the Warriors.
Williamson said that he was impressed with Ball's performance and ability to elevate his level of play at the most important point of the season.
"I'm glad he's my teammate," Williamson said. "You love to have teammates like that can say stuff like that and come the next day and show out. He just wants to win. That's what I love about Lonzo. He just wants to win. And he'll do whatever it takes to win."
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