76ers

Sixers-Grizzlies preseason observations: Ben Simmons sharp in loss

Sixers-Grizzlies preseason observations: Ben Simmons sharp in loss

BOX SCORE

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. 

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Perhaps the Sixers have been underestimated a bit.

Outside of Joel Embiid’s health, all of the chatter going into the playoffs was about how the relatively inexperienced roster would handle the big stage. 

Sure, the team has a crop of veterans that have been there and done that. However, young impact players such as Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric were all getting their first taste of the postseason.

So how are they feeling about it to this point?

“I love it,” Embiid said at Friday’s practice. “I live for these moments. I thrive in this type of atmosphere. I think I was built for this, especially playoff basketball.”

Embiid appears particularly fond of the postseason in environments where the Sixers are short on support.

After missing the first two games of the series in Philadelphia while still recovering from orbital fracture surgery, Embiid stepped back into the starting lineup on the road in Miami.

Was getting barked at by rowdy fans in hostile territory going to be a problem? Not for the villain now known as “The Phantom of the Process.”

“I actually think I play better on the road because I just love the atmosphere,” Embiid said. “I just love looking around the arena, people booing, people going against us. That just takes my game to another level.”

The Sixers’ performance isn’t the only thing that has been taken up a notch. Their intensity level and physicality have jumped in this first-round matchup with the bruising Heat.

“I said it before, I wish it was like this all season,” said Simmons, who is averaging 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game in the series. “I’m enjoying it. It’s very competitive and that’s the type of basketball I want to play.”

“It’s basketball. It’s fun,” Justin Anderson said. “Playing like that is fun. Every possession matters. You can tell there’s not a lot of empty possessions. Guys are getting shots up on every possession.

“… It’s intensified. It’s just basketball. It’s the best basketball in the world, and we’re putting ourselves in a position to hopefully go and get another one in Game 4.”

Heat's Justise Winslow fined $15K for stepping on Joel Embiid's mask

Heat's Justise Winslow fined $15K for stepping on Joel Embiid's mask

The NBA dished out some swift justice on Friday night.

Heat swingman Justise Winslow was fined $15,000 by the league for unsportsmanlike conduct after intentionally stepping on and attempting to damage Joel Embiid’s mask during the Sixers’ Game 3 win in Miami (see story).

With 7:51 remaining in the second quarter, the goggles portion of Embiid’s mask fell onto the court. Winslow stepped on the goggles with his left foot before picking them up and trying to break them with his hands.

“He kept throwing it on the ground, so I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what,” Winslow said. “But I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

The incident definitely didn’t stop Embiid in his postseason debut. The big man returned from orbital surgery to put up 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the Sixers’ 128-108 victory.

“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands,” Embiid said. “But little do they know is that I have about 50 of them. So it’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. 

“I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.”