Sixers detect a glaring area in need of improvement in preseason opener

Sixers detect a glaring area in need of improvement in preseason opener

The preseason is a time for teams to see where they need to improve. The Sixers quickly learned their defense needs work.

They were outscored by 20 points in the second half of their 110-89 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“It was hard guarding them 1-on-1,” Brett Brown. “All over the place, the defense was poor. We made a run in the second period, but in general, I didn’t think the defense was that good.”

The Sixers trailed the Grizzlies by six after the first quarter and cut the deficit to one at halftime. They were held to just 23.5 percent from the field in the third when the Grizzlies extended the lead to 14. The Grizzlies outshot the Sixers 46.7 to 34.8 percent from the field overall.

"We could have made them feel us a little bit more," JJ Redick said. "They moved the ball really easily. We certainly felt them at times when we were on offense with our turnovers (nine) and taking tough shots."

The Grizzlies dominated the glass, 57 to 40. The Sixers grabbed three offensive rebounds compared to the Grizzlies' 12. 

The Sixers were shorthanded without key players, but the Grizzlies were, too. Joel Embiid (left knee recovery), Amir Johnson (right ankle sprain), Dario Saric (rest) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis) were out for the Sixers. All-Stars Mike Conley (rest) and Marc Gasol (left ankle), as well as Tyreke Evans (migraine) and Ben McLemore (right foot) missed the game.

Center Brandan Wright led all players with 16 points and neared a double-double with eight rebounds. 

The Sixers have four preseason games remaining to hone their defense before the regular-season opener on Oct. 18. They will face the Celtics on Friday. 

"It's going to take time," Ben Simmons said.

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said. 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.