CAMDEN, N.J. — There are two obvious storylines to watch Tuesday night when the Sixers hold their Blue-White scrimmage at the Palestra at 7 p.m., and for good reason.
Everyone will have their eyes on Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons’ shots. We’ve seen glimpses already at training camp, but playing in front of fans will be a different environment than playing in front of a few media members documenting the action on cell phones.
At the end of practice Monday, head coach Brett Brown put Fultz, Simmons and a few other players in a pressure situation — Make two straight free throws, or else you and your teammates have to run.
Fultz knocked down both his shots.
Simmons made one of two, then finished first on the penalty sprint up and down the floor.
Tuesday night will be a small step up in pressure, with the preseason opener looming on Sep. 28 against Melbourne United.
How will the news guys fit in?
During training camp, Brown has raved about the versatility and toughness of new acquisitions Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler (see story).
He said Monday he’s been pleasantly surprised by Muscala’s athleticism.
“I think that his versatility, his ability to switch, it’s better than I thought,” Brown said. “He’s got a bounce.”
Even though he’s a big fan of Amir Johnson’s interior defense, don’t be surprised if Brown uses Muscala some as a small-ball five. He showed during a scrimmage Sunday the appeal of playing him in that role — he’s more than capable of punishing big men who play off him.
New defensive approach
A few roles have shifted on Brown’s coaching staff with the departure of current Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and the addition of Monty Williams. Billy Lange is now in charge of the defense, taking over Pierce’s job last season, and according to Joel Embiid, he’s made a few changes to the team’s approach.
“Right now we’re actually working on new defensive concepts,” Embiid said after practice Sunday. “It’s going to take time. It’s much different than what we did last year. It’s definitely going to take time. That’s why I say we gotta learn how to play with each other, because we have to understand each other’s movement. We can only get better. We were third [in defensive rating] and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Ben Simmons seemed to disagree Tuesday with the notion that there have been any dramatic defensive shifts.
“Personally, I feel like it’s been pretty standard,” Simmons said. “I think defensively we’re just getting back into the flow of things. It takes time. We’re not where we were, but we understand the level we need to be at.”
It would be surprising if Lange is implementing any radical changes, given the fact that, as Embiid mentioned, the Sixers had the league’s third-best defense last season. The Blue-White scrimmage may give us a better sense of his philosophy.
Brown said Monday that the team is focused on gearing its defensive approach toward playoff basketball, which means figuring out how to keep Embiid on the floor when teams go small and put five shooters on the floor.
“How does he guard [Al] Horford, how would he guard Draymond Green? … We’re trying to anticipate that environment,” Brown said, “and we’re practicing now on how to keep him more close to the rim.”
“Defensively, how do we switch a lot, how do we keep the game in front of you, how do we not get beat on the bigs dribbling quick? And then, how do we find ways to, as much as we can, get Joel at the rim and be able to cover him around that? That to me is playoff defense.”
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