memphis grizzlies

Sixers detect a glaring area in need of improvement in preseason opener

Sixers detect a glaring area in need of improvement in preseason opener

The preseason is a time for teams to see where they need to improve. The Sixers quickly learned their defense needs work.

They were outscored by 20 points in the second half of their 110-89 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“It was hard guarding them 1-on-1,” Brett Brown. “All over the place, the defense was poor. We made a run in the second period, but in general, I didn’t think the defense was that good.”

The Sixers trailed the Grizzlies by six after the first quarter and cut the deficit to one at halftime. They were held to just 23.5 percent from the field in the third when the Grizzlies extended the lead to 14. The Grizzlies outshot the Sixers 46.7 to 34.8 percent from the field overall.

"We could have made them feel us a little bit more," JJ Redick said. "They moved the ball really easily. We certainly felt them at times when we were on offense with our turnovers (nine) and taking tough shots."

The Grizzlies dominated the glass, 57 to 40. The Sixers grabbed three offensive rebounds compared to the Grizzlies' 12. 

The Sixers were shorthanded without key players, but the Grizzlies were, too. Joel Embiid (left knee recovery), Amir Johnson (right ankle sprain), Dario Saric (rest) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis) were out for the Sixers. All-Stars Mike Conley (rest) and Marc Gasol (left ankle), as well as Tyreke Evans (migraine) and Ben McLemore (right foot) missed the game.

Center Brandan Wright led all players with 16 points and neared a double-double with eight rebounds. 

The Sixers have four preseason games remaining to hone their defense before the regular-season opener on Oct. 18. They will face the Celtics on Friday. 

"It's going to take time," Ben Simmons said.

Ben Simmons shows 'he's a monster' in Sixers' preseason opener

Ben Simmons shows 'he's a monster' in Sixers' preseason opener

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons has played a game for the Sixers. A preseason game, but a game nonetheless. And after a season-long injury, he didn’t miss a beat.

Simmons stuffed the stat sheet with six points, seven rebounds, nine assists, a block and a turnover in 22 minutes on Wednesday. He eased into the point guard role and was comfortable scoring on the break or finding his teammates (see highlights).

Even though the Grizzlies took over the game in the second half and beat the Sixers, 110-89, Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was impressed. 

“I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years,” he said of Simmons. “That kid, they’re not talking about him enough. … Once he gets confidence in his shot where you really have to close out all the way to the three, wow. He’s a big-time talent.”

Simmons dished five assists in just under 10 minutes in the first quarter alone (see observations). He was the main ball handler when paired with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup (more on him here). The Sixers also got a look at Simmons and veteran Jerryd Bayless, the initially-planned backcourt duo before both were injured last season. 

Brett Brown considers Simmons to be "an advanced" rookie compared to Fultz given the year the 2016 No. 1 pick spent with the Sixers while rehabbing from a Jones fracture. During that time, Simmons was able to observe and study the NBA game even if he wasn't playing. 

“His breakaway speed, his ability to get to the rim, the pace of which he plays, I love,” Brown said. “His ability to see things, find corners. When defensive players just nudge him over, he can find stuff well.” 

Of course, Simmons still has room to grow after just one game. He shot 2 for 8 from the field and 0 for 3 from long range. Brown would like him to improve on finishing at the rim at a higher rate. Simmons wants to enhance his "game-ready wind." It has been over a year since he played an official game during the 2016 summer league session. 

"I've got to work on different plays and sets and reading the defense, seeing what's open," Simmons said. 

Simmons has willing helpers on that end of the floor. As one of the Sixers' best defenders, Robert Covington said he is "taking Ben under his wing." Justin Anderson has been talking with Simmons about his D as well. 

“Ben brings everything,” Covington said. “He’s a monster on both sides. He doesn’t even realize how good he is just yet because he’s only played one game.”

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.