76ers

Celtics 105, Sixers 87: New season opens much like last season ended

Celtics 105, Sixers 87: New season opens much like last season ended

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There were some powerful dunks from Joel Embiid, sightings of Ben Simmons doing Ben Simmons things and even a Markelle Fultz jumper.

Unfortunately for the Sixers, there was also more evidence that they can’t contain the Boston Celtics.

The Sixers found out just how far they still have to go to reach the Celtics’ level during a 105-87 road loss to open the 2018-19 NBA season.

Let’s dive into some observations from Tuesday’s opener.

• Let’s get right to what everyone wanted to see coming into opening night: Fultz.

The second-year guard started a regular-season game for the first time in his young career and much like his rookie campaign, it was an up-and-down adventure.

Fultz had his moments like when he sank a 14-foot jumper early in the second quarter and finished off a sick pass from Ben Simmons at the rim (see video). But there were also some offensive mistakes and poor reads on defense.

However, what was most glaring was Fultz’s (five points on 2 of 7 shooting and a game-worst minus-16) performance when sharing the floor with Simmons. The 20-year-old mostly deferred to the reigning Rookie of the Year on offense and was content to simply drift around the court.

Fultz has to be some sort of threat to score when playing off the ball for the Sixers’ new starting lineup to be completely effective.

• For all of the talk about how Brett Brown’s decision to start Fultz would impact the young guard, it was mostly glossed over on how it would impact the veteran he replaced. 

JJ Redick struggled to find his game early on in his first night as a reserve since April 3, 2014. He was 7 for 17 from the field and 2 for 8 from three-point range for 16 points in 30 minutes.

Redick hasn’t come off the bench regularly in four years, so expect there to be an adjustment period.

• It’s the first game of a new season and we don’t want to be the ones to overreact, but here it goes: the Sixers will never reach the championship level they are striving for if they continue to turn the ball over at such a high rate.

The Sixers have never finished better than 29th in that category under Brown and they seem well on their way to the basement again after committing 16 turnovers Tuesday.

Despite Joel Embiid’s solid 23-point, 10-rebound, two-block effort, he remained the main culprit. Embiid, who noted ball security as one of his main points of emphasis, had five giveaways in the loss. 

With the team destined for some rough patches as it implements a new defensive system, the Sixers can’t also try to overcome extra miscues.

• Whether he has a consistent jump shot or not, you have to love watching Simmons play.

A guy that’s 6-foot-10, 230 pounds weaving his way through defenses like a car in traffic and finishing at the rim with authority is a sight to behold. He even managed to do some work by posting up Tuesday, which was lacking from his game last season.

Simmons got what is expected to be his first All-Star Game candidacy underway with a near-triple-double as he notched 19 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.

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Sixers vs. Blazers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Blazers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

The Sixers (38-21) match up against the Portland Trail Blazers (35-23) on Saturday afternoon. Both of these teams look very different since their last meeting in Portland back on Dec. 30, where the Blazers steamrolled the Sixers, 129-95.

Here are the essentials for the Saturday matinee:

• When: 1 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch.

Bobi

One of the things that remains the same is the Sixers are without Joel Embiid, who is resting with left knee soreness. But this time around, the Sixers have Boban Marjanovic, who is expected to start in his place. In Thursday night’s win over Miami, Marjanovic finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Brown said his tolerance level is "wide" with Marjanovic, as they best figure out how to utilize him in the rotation. The biggest challenge is when opponents go small and are effective in pick-and-roll situations (as the Blazers are). Saturday will be another test.

Twin towers

Without Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers will have their hands full down low, as Enes Kanter made his Blazers debut on Thursday night against the Nets. Kanter finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes, backing up Jusuf Nurkic, who recorded 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Jonah Bolden, who finished scoreless in his 15 minutes Thursday night, will have another opportunity to show what he can do on Saturday.

Tobi vs. Blazers

It appears that Tobias Harris likes matching up against Portland. In his last two games against the Blazers while a member of the Clippers, Harris averaged 36.5 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 66.1 percent. Not too shabby.

Might he go off again on Saturday?

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Why Sixers feel well-equipped to deal with unique Zhaire Smith situation

Why Sixers feel well-equipped to deal with unique Zhaire Smith situation

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown knows all about lingering injuries, hazy timelines and young, talented players working their way back into game shape.

Zhaire Smith’s situation — while certainly unusual, with the added layer of medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction — is not foreign to him.

With the Blue Coats set to face the Maine Red Claws on Friday night, Smith took part in the Sixers’ light, early-afternoon practice. It was his second official practice with the team. He was assigned to the Blue Coats on Jan. 24 and has been primarily practicing and working out in Delaware. 

“At the start, he did some low-minute cardio,” Brown said. "It’s great to see him sort of run around. … There is a bounce. There really is a bounce. He looks good physically. When that translates into him playing G-League-type stuff, I still don’t have any comment on that. But it’s great to see him run around.”

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade with the Suns, suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, then had a serious scare with an allergic reaction to sesame, per a team source, a previously undiscovered allergy (see story). He lost significant weight as a result. 

While general manager Elton Brand said on Feb. 7 the Sixers’ moves at the trade deadline did not alter his expectation that Smith would play this season, Brown has been more cautious with his public statements.

Given the Sixers’ recent history, you can understand why he wouldn’t expect a rapid recovery.

What I do have confidence in, and it’s not for a great reason, is we have so much practice over the years with having injured players be out for a significant amount of time. I think that historically we’ve gotten better. We’ve learned from back in the day when we had — pick ‘em — Nerlens [Noel] and Joel [Embiid] and keep on going, Jahlil [Okafor] for that period, and Markelle [Fultz] — just on and on and on and on about long — Ben Simmons — long injuries. I feel like Zhaire has reaped the benefit of studied work, thoughtful work on how do people learn, what’s the environment that can still inspire and educate as there’s clearly disappointment on not being able to play basketball. … How much of that do you feel like he’s absorbed? It’s hard to guess. I think you do know when you start seeing him play. 

Unlike the names Brown mentioned, Smith has spent time with the Blue Coats. It’s a resource the Sixers don’t want to overuse, but for a player like Smith with a raw offensive game who played power forward at Texas Tech, time practicing and playing in the G-League makes sense. 

“We’ve learned that bouncing back and forth is not the way to do it,” Brown said.

Yet Furkan Korkmaz yo-yoed between Delaware and Philadelphia plenty last season. Jonah Bolden has gone up and down a few times this season. 

Brown said it’s ideal for a player to have at least two consecutive weeks with one team, either the Blue Coats or the Sixers, though he treats each player’s situation differently.

Smith is a unique case, but for a team that’s dealt with injury after injury after injury to its rookies, he’s not an unprecedented one.

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