76ers

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

Happily for Markelle Fultz, his preseason debut with the 76ers not only doesn’t count; it was barely counted.

A glitch with the stat system delayed delivery of the official box score. But in time, it appeared, in all its ugliness. In time there was confirmation that Fultz shot 2 for 13 and scored four points as the Sixers, minus Joel Embiid, lost to the Grizzlies, minus Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, by a 110-89 score Wednesday (see observations).

Nobody seemed too concerned about that, least of all Fultz himself.

“Everybody has a night like that,” the rookie guard said. “It’s a long season. There’s going to be times when your shot’s not falling.”

Fultz made his first attempt, a backdoor lefty layup from Ben Simmons (more on him here), and his next-to-last try, an uncontested dunk off a feed from T.J. McConnell. In between, he missed 10 straight — three of them three-pointers, but most of the others within 10 feet of the rim.

Twice he was blocked by 6-foot-10 Deyonta Davis. Other times he couldn’t quite coax his shots home. As Brett Brown said, “He’s going into a whole different treeline.”

Bigger and more athletic than the ones the No. 1 overall pick saw in his lone collegiate season at Washington. Takes some getting used to.

Conley, one of the league’s finest point guards, knows all about it.

“We all go through it,” he said, having rested and looked on from the bench. “It’s just a stage.”

Finishing is just part of the learning process for Fultz. There is also the adjustment to playing off the ball, playing alongside Simmons and facing down all the old heads who will surely test him.

And doing all that at age 19.

“He’s raw right now,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said, “and everybody is going to go after him because he is the No. 1 pick. That’s to be expected.”

Before the game, Fizdale praised Fultz’s maturity, extolled the virtues of his “grown-up game.” That, the coach added, will carry him through.

“He’ll settle in and his talent will pick up,” Fizdale said, “but there are a lot of guys where their first few games in this league, people are hunting for them just to test them out. He’ll go through his bumps and bruises, but you can't deny that level of talent that’s there. … I expect him to be a heck of a player in this league. It’s just a matter of time.”

A process, as it were.

“He’s set himself up for this,” Conley said. “He’s built for this. He’s trained for this. And I’m sure he’s just going to be going through it the first couple games of preseason. After that, it’s sit down, look at the film and learn from it, get better and be the guy that I know he believes he is.”

Conley was the fourth overall pick in 2007, so he knows something about the pressure high draft picks face. (Not to mention those faced by well-compensated veterans. He signed a five-year, $153 million contract in 2016, which at that point was the richest in league history.)

“It’s a lot of pressure (to be taken early), because you’ve got a lot of guys who know who you are, even though you haven’t played a game yet,” Conley said. “He’s definitely going to get everybody’s best shot. He’s got to know that. You’ve got to be prepared for it.”

But Conley also sees Fultz as a level-headed kid, as a guy who will weather the storm. 

“He’s got all the tools,” he said. “Obviously one preseason game, you can’t really judge anything. But his game, I think, is just going to continue to get better. Out there tonight, it looked like he’s still trying to find his way — find his way through the offense.”

Fultz believes he and Simmons can thrive together, that they have already made strides. He further believes that on nights when his shot isn’t falling, he must seek out other ways to contribute.

And finally, he believes he is ready for the challenges ahead — like the one coming up Friday, when the Kyrie Irving-led Celtics come to town.

“I’m actually very, very excited just to test myself against somebody I grew up watching just last year in the Finals,” Fultz said. “Getting the chance to go against one of the best point guards in the NBA right now, I think, will be a good challenge for myself.”

No, that one won’t count, either. Soon enough, though.

Sixers Notes: Eager for rowdy opener; Joel Embiid talks back-to-backs

usa-sixers-fans-dario-saric.jpg
USA Today Images

Sixers Notes: Eager for rowdy opener; Joel Embiid talks back-to-backs

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers first home game is Friday night, and if their season opener in Washington, D.C. was any indication of the fans’ excitement level, the Wells Fargo Center will be rowdy. 

Sixers fans traveled to the Capital One Arena on Wednesday and started a “Trust the Process” chant less than a minute into the game, much to the dismay of the Wizards crowd.

That enthusiasm and loyalty was not lost on the players. They are ready to feed off the vibe at the Wells Fargo Center when they host the Celtics. 

“First of all, Philly fans are passionate and I love that about them,” Joel Embiid said. “Just me going out there, playing hard and making plays just to get them off their seat and cheer and yell and just go crazy, I just love that type of atmosphere. It gets me going, too.”

Some players block out the noise from the stands, especially if they aren’t hitting their shots. Embiid, though, wants to hear the support and repay it on the court. 

“If I miss foul shots and then they’re cheering, I know that the next play I’ve got to do better,” he said. “I’ve got to make a crazy block or I’ve got to make a crazy play to get them going. Then that gets me going too because I love the excitement. Since I’ve been in Philly, I’ve embraced it and I just love it.”

The players don’t want the fans to hold back, either. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has played in intense game environments overseas and welcomes the high energy in Philadelphia. 

“Here, whenever you go in the street, people call your name, cheer for you,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “During the game, it gets you going. The crazier they are, the better you feel and the better you’re going to play. It’s the best thing.”

Brett Brown always has emphasized the responsibility he feels to give the crowd a quality product. He reiterated that doing his job well is on his mind every game. For the first time in his tenure, Brown can debut a roster constructed with direction and a foundation.

“I’m confident and comfortable with what we’ve built, that we can deliver this year’s team to a court knowing that the base is there, there are people we really like and see as part of the future,” he said. 

Fans at the home opener will receive a t-shirt with caricatures of Brown, Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, JJ Redick, Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric on it. 

 

The team also is launching the PhilaFanGram camera system that fans can use to take photos with a specially-designed Sixers-themed filter. 

Back-to-backs for Embiid?
Embiid is awaiting word from the medical staff to hear if he will be cleared for back-to-back games. Following Friday's game against the Celtics, the Sixers travel to Toronto the play the Raptors on Saturday. 

"Yesterday I played and my body feels great today," Embiid said. "My knee feels amazing. I feel like if I had to play today, I feel like I would play depending on how I feel. But I feel like I’m ready."

Embiid was held out of consecutive games last season. 

Amazingly, Sixers have avoided NBA's rash of early-season injuries

usa-draymond-green-gordon-hayward-jeremy-lin.jpg
USA Today Images

Amazingly, Sixers have avoided NBA's rash of early-season injuries

MIAMI — Brooklyn's Jeremy Lin was horrified to see what happened to Gordon Hayward, whose season almost certainly ended in a most disturbing fashion five minutes into the Celtics' season-opener.

A night later, Lin met a similar fate.

Here's some of what should be celebrated from the opening nights of the NBA season: Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo had a 37-point game, Cleveland's LeBron James was one assist away from a triple-double, Houston beat Golden State on the Warriors' ring night and Miami's Hassan Whiteside went for 26 points and 22 rebounds.

It all seems overshadowed by injuries.

No, this is not the start the NBA wanted.

"It's tough watching that happen to anybody in the NBA," said Golden State guard Shaun Livingston, whose horrific knee injury from 2007 -- so bad that doctors originally thought he could lose his leg -- was compared to the grotesque nature of Hayward's injury Tuesday night. "It's all a brotherhood. You want to see guys succeed."

Many members of the brotherhood are ailing, none causing bigger shock waves than Hayward.

San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard hasn't played yet this season because of a quadriceps injury. The Warriors sent Draymond Green to get an MRI on an aching knee, which had knocked him out early in their season opener. Houston's Chris Paul missed a game at Sacramento on Wednesday with knee pain. Cleveland's Isaiah Thomas won't be back until January, at least, while recovering from a hip injury.

And those guys, along with Hayward, are just the hurting All-Stars from last season.

"There's no doubt we'll get him back to be better than he was before," said Mark Bartelstein, Hayward's agent.

Lin's injury was nowhere near as visibly horrifying as Hayward's, but the end result was the same -- a bad landing at Indiana on Wednesday left him in tears and saying, "I'm done, I'm done."

His personal diagnosis was officially confirmed Thursday morning: Lin ruptured the patella tendon in his right knee, the Nets said.

"We feel awful that the injury will cost him the season," Nets general manager Sean Marks said.

Plenty of other teams are missing key players and would-be starters.

Among them: Utah's Dante Exum may miss the whole season with a dislocated left shoulder, Miami's Rodney McGruder had surgery on a stress fracture in his leg, Phoenix's Brandon Knight blew his knee out in the summer, San Antonio's Tony Parker (leg) is still several weeks from returning, Indiana's Glenn Robinson III (ankle) may miss half the season and Milwaukee's Jabari Parker (knee) has months of rehab work left.

"You worry about guys getting nicked up," Memphis forward Brandan Wright said. "Lot of big injuries ... You want to just take care of your guys."

Hayward had surgery Wednesday night and is likely to miss the remainder of the season, after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle in Boston's opener at Cleveland.

Livingston had no interest in seeing the replay of Hayward's injury. He knows the road that awaits the Boston star.

"I'm not watching the video, but I've seen the pictures," Livingston said. "Prayers go out to him. It's going to be a long road back for him but if he puts his mind to it, is a man of faith, keeps good people around him ... it's going to be a long rehab for him but he's very capable of coming back and being the same player."