Jessica Camerato

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).

Joel Embiid to start Sixers' season opener, but how much will he play?

Joel Embiid to start Sixers' season opener, but how much will he play?

WASHINGTON — The first starting lineup of the Sixers' 2017-18 season will be Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, JJ Redick, Robert Covington and Joel Embiid.

Brown is sticking with the group that closed out preseason competition. That group has a balance of veterans and young talent, including Simmons making his NBA debut after missing all of last season with a foot injury.

"It helps a lot (starting together in the preseason) because you're learning guys and how they move and how they play," Simmons said. "I think we have a pretty good connection going into tonight's game and it's only going to get better."

Embiid will be under a minutes restriction but Brown does not have a definitive number. The big man previously said he expected to play 16 minutes. Embiid was the last one to leave the court at the conclusion of shootaround. 

"There's a range that we'll work with," Brown said. "We're going to feel it together. We'll play Joel within some parameters and go from that base." 

Markelle Fultz also will make his NBA debut. The No. 1 pick, who has battled right knee and shoulder soreness, will come off the bench in front of his hometown crowd. 

"I'm excited," Fultz said. "It's anything you can wish for."

Bold predictions as Sixers tip off 2017-18 season

Bold predictions as Sixers tip off 2017-18 season

Each NBA season is filled with unexpected occurrences that change the landscape for a team, division, conference or even the entire league.

The Sixers will need to have a few of their own along the way as they seek their first playoff berth in five years.

With that said, Jessica Camerato, Marshall Harris, Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick each provide a bold prediction for the Sixers’ new season.

Camerato: Embiid gets cleared for back-to-back games
Some people may think this should be a given and not a bold prediction, but given how closely the Sixers are monitoring Joel Embiid's playing time, this isn't a guarantee.

Embiid was not cleared for consecutive games last season as he returned from two years of foot injuries. The Sixers have 14 sets of back-to-backs in 2017-18. Of those, I predict Embiid will play in two pairs of them.

The Sixers will have to check off a comprehensive medical checklist before Embiid is given the green light to play two nights in a row. I do think at some point in the season, they will take this next step and do so on a minutes restriction.

Harris: Fultz won't start more than half Sixers’ games
Yes, Markelle Fultz is the No. 1 overall pick. The Sixers had to trade up to get him. That's why it pains me to admit this. It's not that I want this to be the case, it's just becoming more and more likely with each passing day. Bringing Fultz off the bench to start his NBA career makes the most sense.
 
Fultz is only 19 years old and going up against grown men in the NBA. He's dealing with a shoulder injury he admits has affected his shot, and he's already missed time in the preseason with knee soreness. The knee issue isn't new, as he's dealt with knee problems dating back to his lone season at Washington. 

Add all that up and it's easy to see how his reserve role could go on longer than just the first few games of the season.
 
For Ben Simmons to be most effective, he needs shooters around him. Jerryd Bayless missed almost all of last season, but in 2015-16 he shot 47.7 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. Alongside JJ Redick, Embiid, Robert Covington (I'd like to think he'll shoot better than 28.7 percent from three before January this season) and Bayless, Simmons will have the full complement of shooters he'll need for the Sixers’ offense to pace and space teams to death. 

Coming off the bench will give Fultz the room to grow comfortably, regardless of shoulder and knee issues. It makes sense now and will probably make sense for at least the first half of the season.

Haughton: Redick, Bayless finish top 10 in 3-point percentage
Let it fly. 

As Marshall mentioned above, with ample attention being paid to Embiid down on the block and Simmons serving up those crisp passes, Redick and Bayless should have plenty of good looks from three-point range.

All that’s left is to make the shots. That shouldn’t be a problem for Redick. The career 41.5 percent three-point shooter has finished among the top five in three of the past five seasons, including the No. 1 spot in 2015-16.

Bayless isn’t the same caliber shooter as Redick, but he has made strides to become a serious threat from long range. The veteran combo guard has shot 36.6 percent from distance for his career. However, Bayless connected on a career-high 43.7 percent in ’15-16 with the Bucks, his second season above 40.0.

Recent numbers suggest it will take around a 41.5 percent average to crack the top 10. I say the sharpshooters make the cut and provide the Sixers with an aspect of today’s NBA the team has been severely lacking for quite some time.

Hudrick: Brown gets named NBA’s top coach
Maybe I'm trying to go all LaVar Ball and will this into existence, but my bold prediction is that Brett Brown will win Coach of the Year.

If my season prediction is correct, the Sixers will make the playoffs with the same coach that's finished with a 75-253 record during his first four seasons. Brown has been through so much during his time here. Don't think that'll get lost on voters.

Think about some of the players Brown has had to trot out there. Tony Wroten. James Anderson. Furkan Aldemir. Isaiah Canaan. The one thing you could always say about the Sixers during the tanking years is the players on the court didn't tank. That's a credit to Brown, who had his team prepared and ready to play.

With actual NBA players, Brown will pull this team together. Nobody in this organization deserves vindication of their efforts more.