76ers

Sixers-Grizzlies preseason observations: Ben Simmons sharp in loss

Sixers-Grizzlies preseason observations: Ben Simmons sharp in loss

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One preseason game down. One step closer to opening night. Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz played their first games as the Sixers fell to the Grizzlies, 110-89, on Wednesday night.

Let’s get right to the biggest question: how did Simmons and Fultz play together?

Brett Brown started Simmons, Fultz, JJ Redick, Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes. Simmons took on the initial ball-handling duties. He looked poised off the inbound and the fast break. Simmons already showed off his court vision with savvy passes early on.

In the first quarter, Fultz played off the ball and Jerryd Bayless subbed in to do the same. The Sixers signed Bayless to complement Simmons last season before the two players were injured.

• Despite shooting 2 for 8, Simmons appeared comfortable. He posted six points, nine assists, seven rebounds and one block. 

• Fultz, on the other hand, struggled offensively. He went 2 for 13 from the field and looked tired in the fourth. Outside of three games in summer league, Fultz has not played since Feb. 18 (in college). His shot, and the possible change of it, has been a topic of debate during training camp. Fultz finished with four points, three assists and two rebounds.

• After being the backup … and the backup to the backup … his first two seasons, Holmes got the start at center. There is strong competition for that role between Holmes, Amir Johnson and Jahlil Okafor, and minutes to be earned with Joel Embiid sidelined. It remains to be seen if Holmes will stay in the starting lineup when Johnson returns from a sprained right ankle. 

“Just having that much talent, having that much depth, you have to earn everything you get,” Holmes said before he recorded nine points, three rebounds and three blocks in 16 minutes. “It’s kind of how I like it.” 

• Okafor looked lighter on his feet (literally, 20 pounds lighter) in his first game since March 22. He came off the bench behind Holmes. Okafor even came up with a spin move (see video). The third-year center notched 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting, six boards and two blocks. 

• Why did the Sixers sign Redick to a $23 million contract this season? Here’s one reason:

• Bayless could be heard yelling to teammates on the court. It will be key for the Sixers to spread their veteran leaders between units. While some believe Redick would be best suited to come off the bench behind Fultz, the young starters will benefit from playing alongside with him just as the reserves will do the same from sharing the floor with Bayless and Johnson. 

• Dario Saric noted he feels “100 percent ready,” but the Sixers wanted him to rest after a lengthy summer of international basketball. Saric played ball overseas up until one week before the start of training camp.

• Embiid watched the game from the bench in a suit. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis) did not play. Memphis starters Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were among the Grizzlies who did not play. 

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Markelle Fultz progressing, but not ready to return to Sixers yet

Updated: 2:45 p.m.

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Markelle Fultz isn't cleared to play just yet.

The Sixers rookie was reevaluated Sunday for right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance and will be reevaluated again in approximately 2-3 weeks, the team announced. 

His return date will be based on how he handles training and practices. An examination by Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic, showed Fultz's soreness and muscle balance is improving. Fultz met with Kibler on Oct. 29 and has seen multiple shoulder specialists. 

The rehab plan is for Fultz to continue with physiotherapy treatment.

"Just the fact we expect to get back into full basketball activity soon," Brett Brown said after practice Sunday, "I don't know the exact timeframe of that, but the news is good in relation to the improvement of his shoulder, enough for us to put out a press release saying what I just said and look forward to bringing him into the team and playing basketball again."

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft has appeared in only four games this season, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists off the bench. He has been battling the shoulder discomfort since training camp, and his shot was visibly affected by it.

Fultz has been traveling with the Sixers. He is staying engaged with the team during his own pregame warmups, assisting with rebounding after practices and staying incorporated with teammates off the court. 

Bayless to return
The Sixers anticipate getting one player back from injury Monday.

Brown expects Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) will play against the Jazz. Bayless went through practice Sunday. Brown looks forward to having Bayless' veteran experience, playmaking, and on-ball defense back in the mix. Bayless has missed the last six games and doesn't plan to have any minute restrictions on his return. 

"It's feeling OK," Bayless said of his wrist. "It's feeling like it's ready to go. I'm excited to play and be back out there." 

Justin Anderson (left leg) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) remain sidelined. As a result of all the injuries, guards T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot have seen a bump in minutes. 

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

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The Sixers received a crash course in top-caliber NBA basketball from the Warriors with two games in eight nights against the defending champions. 

Both were winnable games for the Sixers in the first half. Both were blown open by the Warriors in the third quarter. Both resulted in a Sixers loss.

This time, it was a 124-116 loss Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Instead of taking silver linings and pats on the back, the Sixers are absorbing lessons, tried-and-true experience-based lessons from competing against the best in the league and watching it slip away. 

“They didn’t flip a switch,” Joel Embiid said Saturday. “We were just bad in the third quarter. But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were aggressive and they were physical with us, especially in the second half. They did what they had to do, and they got a win.”

Protect the third quarter
On Saturday, the Sixers scored a scorching 47 points in the first quarter and led the Warriors 74-52 at halftime. That edge far surpassed their one-point deficit in last weekend’s game and put them on a commanding path at home.

The Warriors quickly dashed any hopes of an upset by outscoring the Sixers, 47-15, in the third. Steph Curry scored 20 of those points. That quarter set the tone for a Warriors' comeback win. Similarly, the Warriors outscored the Sixers by 15 points in the third during their 135-114 victory on Nov. 11.

“After coming out of halftime, we knew what we were getting into,” Embiid said. “We knew that the first game, we knew that tonight, that needed to stay locked in. We didn’t do a good job the first time and then the second time we definitely didn’t do a good job.”

Play aggressive and smart at same time
The Sixers committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the third, which led to 14 of the Warriors’ 47 points. Ben Simmons echoed Embiid’s opinion of needing to be more focused. The rookie point guard also noted the Sixers should have been better with defensive assignments and played more aggressively. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from long-range and didn’t get to the foul line once in the third.

Simmons only attempted one field goal in the quarter. Brett Brown noted he played Simmons the entire second quarter and the first eight minutes in the third. The combination of a shorthanded eight-man rotation and the effects of coming off a West Coast road trip factored in. 

The Warriors, meanwhile, stayed cool and collected in the face of a 22-point halftime deficit. They bounced back to shoot 62.2 percent from the field in the second half. The Sixers noticed the Warriors’ unwavering self-assurance even as they fell further and further behind in the first half.

“There’s a confidence that they have in what they do and who they are that over the course of a full game," JJ Redick said, "if they play the right way, they’re going to have a chance to win."

Breaking the double team
The Warriors stifled Embiid in their first matchup (12 points). After watching his 46-point performance against the Lakers, which head coach Steve Kerr deemed “terrifying,” the Warriors knew they had to be extra cognizant of the big man, especially on his home court.

They once again swarmed Embiid with a double team, a defensive look he’s still adjusting to. Embiid felt the pressure. He committed three turnovers in the game-changing third quarter (five on the night). 

“I’m more impressed by what they do defensively,” Embiid said. “Especially for me, they really had me guessing. They double-teamed me the whole night, from the top, from the baseline, from the post fader. They really had me guessing.”

Remember what caused the loss
The Sixers had chances to hand the Warriors a loss, both at home and on the road. When they plan for the rest of the season, the months and months ahead, they can point to what they did right and just as importantly what went wrong in competing against a team as dangerous as the Warriors. 

"We feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game and then you just blink and you get hit in the mouth," Brown said. "The repetition of playing the NBA champs and feeling like you're there and then all of a sudden to zoom in and say why aren't we? Why weren't we? Where did the game change? And understand that better and try to fix it, try to arrest it. That's the benefit to playing them in close proximity."