CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown said he felt “a little doughy.”

JJ Redick said he finally got a normal amount of sleep Wednesday night, his first in over a week.

How was Ben Simmons feeling after returning from the Sixers’ preseason trip to China?

“I’m good,” Simmons said. “I was in here at 8 a.m.”

Is that typical for him? 

“I want to be great, so …,” Simmons said.

Simmons didn’t need to get up that early — the Sixers’ first practice back in the United States was Thursday at 4:30 p.m., a change from their usual 11 a.m. routine. Brown said the team also plans to practice at 4:30 on Friday and Saturday.

That’s part of Brown’s plan to re-acclimate the team to the East Coast, one he says he feels confident in, having drawn on his many South Pacific trips during his time as a coach in Australia.

Sunday, the Sixers will be off. Monday, they’ll be back practicing at 11 a.m. And before you know it, they’ll be playing meaningful basketball, against the Boston Celtics.

It’s just the first of 82 regular-season games, albeit one that will be surrounded by plenty of hype. But for the Sixers, it’s a game they’ve been thinking about for months, against the team that appears to pose the biggest obstacle to their goal of an Eastern Conference championship.

“Very clearly, to get where we want to go, for a very long time you’re going to have to get through the Celtics,” Brown said. “And that’s a good thing. That’s how competition should be.”

 

The Celtics have never been far from the Sixers’ minds. Joel Embiid talked on media day about how he still feels the pain of that series (see story); Brown said Thursday the Sixers tried to start with a “playoff-driven” mindset in September. 

“They played like they were in the playoffs the previous few years, and we hadn’t played,” Brown said. “I do look forward to getting a healthy Joel Embiid, without a mask. I think that can favor us having a better chance to perform. I respect the Celtics’ path. They are a few years ahead of us and now bring back two All-Stars. We all get how good they are.”

Those two All-Stars Brown refers to are, of course, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Redick knows Irving and Hayward make the Celtics an even greater challenge. 

“They have the advantage because they beat us 4-1 without those guys,” Redick said. “The way they finished the season and the way we finished the season gave both teams momentum going into this year, but they obviously have more to build upon.”

Redick, however, doesn’t believe the Sixers are a world away from beating the Celtics. He hasn’t forgotten the chances the Sixers let slip away in that series. 

“I look back at that series and we had the lead in three of the four fourth quarters of games we lost,” Redick said. “Whether that’s closing games or my turnover in Game 3 when we were tied with a chance to win it at the end and had to rely on a miracle Marco (Belinelli) shot to get to overtime. My shot in Game 5 that was wide open off a T.J (McConnell) penetration that could’ve put us up five. We just missed opportunities to close those games out. That’s what I learned from last year.”

The Sixers have been thinking about the Celtics since May. It’s finally time to give Boston their full attention. 

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