76ers

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — The Sixers opened the season with a 120-115 loss to the Wizards on Wednesday night at the Capital One Arena. They were within two points with 20.5 seconds to play, but the Wizards played feisty down the stretch and JJ Redick missed a key three.

With 1:18 remaining, Robert Covington drilled his seventh three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. The Sixers had chances to tie or go ahead but committed two of their 17 turnovers on consecutive possessions. After Bradley Beal tacked on a free throw, the Sixers had one final shot. However, Redick couldn’t connect on a contested three with 15 seconds remaining.

In spite of the final score, the revamped Sixers strongly competed against the well-familiarized Wizards (see studs, duds, more). This game exemplified two obstacles they will face early on: overcoming the newness of their roster and juggling Joel Embiid’s playing time. Which leads to … 

• Embiid played 26:57 minutes, exceeding his (frustrated) expectation of 16. Brett Brown hadn’t set a hard number on Embiid’s playing time at shootaround Wednesday morning. He planned to be more flexible within Embiid’s restriction than last season. 

Embiid posted a double-double in his first 21:38 minutes through three quarters and seemed uncertain to return at that point. He re-entered the game, though, with 5:19 to play as the Sixers chased a win. Embiid recorded an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double with three assists.

• Ben Simmons attempted all of his shots in the paint and scored the majority at the basket. He also reached a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He logged nearly 35 minutes in his debut (see highlights).

“His first game was really exceptional,” Brown said. “Really, really exceptional. Physically, we all see what he is as an athlete. I think his growth path, his improvement scale, I think it can be off the charts.”

• The Markelle Fultz shoulder saga continued. Fultz took a pair of free throws with an awkward form that prompted a social media frenzy. His shot didn’t look comfortable nor natural as he deals with right shoulder soreness. Fultz made up for it with a monster block on Kelly Oubre Jr. and aggressive drives to the basket. He scored 10 points off 5 for 9 shooting from the field in 18 minutes off the bench (see highlights), drawing praise from Brown, who noted the rookie's lack of playing time leading up to opening night.

“I think I did decent,” Fultz said. “I did some things good and I think I made some mistakes that I need to improve on. But all around, I think I did pretty good.”

• Amir Johnson got the majority of the minutes at backup center. Brown went small with Dario Saric in the fourth. (See his train of thought here.)
 
Jahlil Okafor did not play. Okafor’s minutes may come when Embiid sits out an entire game, hypothetically, in a back-to-back. The Sixers will have to address that situation on Saturday.

• A night of firsts: Embiid’s first two points were free throws less than 45 seconds into the game. (He’s making a point of that.)
 
Simmons then scored his first NBA bucket with a driving reverse layup on a fastbreak. Fultz came in off the bench to score his first points on a fastbreak layup. Redick’s first basket as a member of the Sixers was (appropriately) a three-pointer in the second quarter. 

• Covington got into a three-point shooting rhythm. He hit 7 of 11 treys for a game-high 29 points.

• The Sixers had 17 turnovers in the game compared to the Wizards' nine.

• Fultz and Simmons made their NBA debuts, but they weren’t the only players getting into game rhythm. Take a look at how long it has been since these starters played in a regular-season contest: Bayless: Nov. 25, 2016 (wrist); Embiid: Jan. 27, 2017 (knee), Covington: Mar. 28, 2017 (knee). 

• Sixers fans chanted “Trust the Process” a minute into the game. The visiting team often is well-represented in Washington, D.C.

• The Sixers will be back in action on Friday night when they host the Boston Celtics in their home opener (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app).

Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

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USA Today Images

Ben Simmons dominating NBA playoffs as a rookie

July 20, 1996.

Watching Ben Simmons play in the postseason, it’s easy to forget the Sixers rookie point guard is only 21. 

Simmons has been handling the pressures of his first playoff run with a maturity beyond his years and a basketball savvy that’s putting his achievements among elite players that came before him in the NBA. 

The postseason stage did not prove to be too big for Simmons in the first round, and he’s just getting started. 

“On to the next series,” Simmons said after the Sixers eliminated the Heat in Game 5. “We've got to focus on that. For me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now.”

Simmons averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.0 turnovers in 37.4 minutes during the first round. He recorded a triple-double in Game 4, the first Sixer to do so since Charles Barkley on April 27, 1991. Simmons also became the youngest player with a playoff triple-double since LeBron James on May 13, 2006.

Simmons is tied with James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and LaMarcus Aldridge for the most double-doubles so far in the postseason. The last rookie to reach at least four double-doubles in his first five playoff games was Tim Duncan during the 1997-98 season.

“He didn’t have a bad game,” Dwyane Wade said after the Heat’s Game 5 loss. “You knew from the first time you saw him in summer league that he was special … I think the thing that was impressive about him all year is he just continued to get better and better and better. To the point where it’s like that guy in Cleveland — doesn’t have bad games. The imprint that [Simmons and James] put on the game is more than just scoring. [Simmons] does so much.”

Simmons’ poise and composure was tested by the Heat in the opening round. He was on the receiving end of tough plays during an extremely physical series. 

During the Sixers’ closeout game, Simmons was taken out at the legs by Josh Richardson and slammed into the ground with a bruise on his back to show for it. Later in the game, Goran Dragic was whistled for a technical after swiping Simmons in the head. Unnerved, Simmons took both incidents in stride.

“First play when I fell, he (Richardson) didn’t see me. It was just a hard fall,” Simmons said. “The second one, I think I just got under Dragic’s skin. But I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys. They play hard every night and they made us a better team.” 

Simmons has escalated his game all season through adversity and challenges, from stepping up in the absence of an injured Joel Embiid to being looked over for the All-Star team to shaking off criticism of his eligibility for Rookie of the Year. He remains unfazed amid it all, keeping a calm expression on his face that translates into a collected style of play. 

“It’s just the way I am,” Simmons said. “Nothing really bothers me on the floor. I might get frustrated but I never let it take over what I’m doing on the floor.”

Spoken like a player who's been to the postseason before; only he hasn't. 

Dwyane Wade praises Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Sixers

Dwyane Wade praises Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Sixers

This wasn’t Dwyane Wade’s first rodeo. 

The three-time NBA champ and former Finals MVP has played with and against the best players of the last 15 years. After his Heat team suffered a Game 5 and 4-1 series loss Tuesday night, the future Hall of Famer heaped praise upon the Sixers’ young stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

“They’re the future of the NBA,” Wade said. “The NBA is in great hands with Ben and Joel and those kind of individuals.”

The young Sixers delivered at home, closing out their series in five games with a 104-91 win. Simmons (14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) and Embiid (19 points, 12 boards) shined once again. 

As the Sixers look forward to an Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup with either Boston or Milwaukee, the question is simple: how far can these kids go?

“When you’ve got great individual players — no matter how old they are — they can do some special things,” Wade said. “These guys believe it. You can see it in their eyes. Embiid is not just talk. He’s not just a Twitter rat kind of person. He’s a player. He’s very good. 

“I believe in those guys. I believe they’re going to be special for awhile, but also, if they believe they can do it now, they can.”

Wade won two NBA titles with the greatest player on the planet, LeBron James. While the Sixers focus on now, there’s been a lot of talk from fans and media of King James' jumping ship and coming to Philly.

According to Wade, the Fresh Prince may be the only royalty the Sixers need.

“I don’t think he had a bad game,” Wade said of Simmons. “A young player like that, in his first playoffs — he didn’t have a bad game. You knew from the first time you saw him in summer league that he was special. If you know basketball, if you know talent, you know someone is special. 

“I think the thing that was impressive about him all year, is he just continued to get better and better and better. To the point where it’s like that guy in Cleveland — doesn’t have bad games. The imprint that [Simmons and James] put on the game is more than just scoring. [Simmons] does so much. The sky is the limit obviously for him and this organization. “

The Sixers have become a trendy pick to win the East and advance to the finals. Sure, they have youth, but Wade believes the organization has done an excellent job adding veteran players like JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to complement Simmons and Embiid.

Wade experienced success at a young age and sees no reason this Sixers team can’t do the same.

“It’s definitely possible,” Wade said of the Sixers going on a deep playoff run. “Sometimes an organization, they get lucky and draft someone special. And these guys got to draft more than one person special and you were able to build around that. 

“That’s what these guys have the ability to do. I was lucky enough in my first year to go to the second round. And then the next year go to the Eastern Conference Finals and the next year win it all. It definitely can happen right away.”