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Sixers-Grizzlies preseason observations: Ben Simmons sharp in loss

Sixers-Grizzlies preseason observations: Ben Simmons sharp in loss

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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. 

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: How much does Sixers' loss to Celtics hurt?

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: How much does Sixers' loss to Celtics hurt?

We’re at the All-Star break and we have some fresh Eastern Conference power rankings. Let’s get right into it: 

1. Bucks (43-14) Last week: 1 
Their blowout loss to the Magic without Giannis Antetokounmpo probably enhanced the Greek Freak’s MVP case. They’re still waiting for newcomer Nikola Mirotic to make his debut while he nurses a strained calf. This is the best team in the East and Mirotic only makes them better.

2. Raptors (43-16) Last week: 3 
While Kawhi Leonard sat against the Wizards, Pascal Siakam did his best impression by putting up a career-high 44 points. Siakam, a late first-round pick in 2016, is a quintessential example of Toronto’s depth. While the trade for Leonard was bold and exciting, finding a player like Siakam is an even more impressive front office feat.

3. Celtics (37-21) Last week: 4 
Boston’s win in Philadelphia without All-Star Kyrie Irving was an impressive one. That was coming off back-to-back losses to both L.A. teams. They’re a confounding team that happens to match up very well against the Sixers. 

4. Sixers (37-21) Last week: 2
The Sixers have won exactly one game against the teams above and that win was over a Kawhi-less Toronto team. That makes it difficult to put them ahead of any of them. With that said, the East is wide open. Any of these top four teams is capable of winning the conference. The Sixers are in a great position with their starting five, especially when rotations are shortened come crunch time. The talent is there, they just need to continue to build on their chemistry.

5. Pacers (38-20) Last week: 6
Indiana ripped off six straight before losing to the Bucks. You have to be impressed with the way the Pacers have rallied since Victor Oladipo’s devastating injury. While defense and the overall team play has been a big part of their success, veteran Bojan Bogdanovic and youngster Myles Turner have been huge in Oladipo’s absence.

6. Nets (30-29) Last week: 5
Brooklyn has gone 4-6 since Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a thumb injury that required surgery. They did get Caris LeVert back, but it’s clear he’s still shaking off the cobwebs after coming back from what looked like a devastating injury. Once the Nets are healthy, they won’t be a fun team to play against.

7. Hornets (27-30) Last week: 7
Poor Kemba Walker. It’s unfathomable that Charlotte did nothing to help him out at the deadline. There were rumors that a deal for Marc Gasol was close, but the veteran big ultimately wound up in Toronto. It’s a shame because Gasol would’ve been a much bigger upgrade for the Hornets.

8. Heat (26-30) Last week: 8 
Like the Sixers, Miami just completed a brutal, but not quite as long, stretch of games against the Thunder, Pacers, Blazers, Kings, Warriors and Nuggets. Unlike the Sixers, the Heat didn’t fare well, losing five of the six. They’ll need Dwyane Wade to keep drinking from the fountain of youth to hold onto the eighth seed.

9. Pistons (26-30) Last week: 10
It was a weird deadline for Detroit, who sold away Reggie Bullock and then signed Wayne Ellington after his buyout from the Suns. They’re going to go as far as Blake Griffin can lead them, but he needs more help.

10. Magic (27-32) Last week: 11 
Orlando is still fighting for that eight seed as they held onto Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross through the deadline. The only intrigue is to see when Markelle Fultz makes his debut. 

11. Wizards (24-34) Last week: 9
Jabari Parker put up a goose egg on the score sheet sandwiched by two 20-point performances. While the trade of Otto Porter Jr. will help some of their cap issues, Bradley Beal will still bear a heavy burden without John Wall for the foreseeable future.

12. Hawks (19-39) Last week: 12 
Atlanta helped the Knicks snap their 18-game losing streak in a game that set basketball back 10 years. The Hawks have put themselves in a tough spot where they’re not nearly good enough to compete for a playoff spot but are falling down the lottery.

13. Bulls (14-44) Last week: 13 
You know, a starting five of Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Porter Jr., Zach LaVine and maybe Ja Morant — if they can land the No. 2 pick — isn’t terrible to build around. Porter Jr. put up a career-high 37 points against Memphis and has looked really good in his four games with Chicago.

14. Cavs (12-46) Last week: 14
How is Channing Frye still in Cleveland? I know he re-signed there, but you’d think there would be a contender that he could help.

15. Knicks (11-47) Last week: 15 
They messed up by beating the Hawks, but their road to Zion Williamson is paved in gold.

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Markelle Fultz — and his mom — need to move on from Sixers, focus on Magic

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Markelle Fultz — and his mom — need to move on from Sixers, focus on Magic

Just when we all thought the Markelle Fultz-Sixers saga was over, another weird quote comes out.

Fultz was traded to the Magic ahead of last week’s trade deadline, but that hasn’t stopped Fultz and others from throwing veiled criticism at the Sixers.

This time it was Fultz’s mother, Ebony, who had an interesting comment about where her son came from and how much better his new situation is, per The Athletic’s Josh Robbins.

“I get a great vibe,” Ebony Fultz said. “It’s very refreshing to hear the positivity, the support that they have for (the players) and the fact that they’re constantly saying, ‘We want to do this the right way.’”

Wait … what?

Did Ebony meet Brett Brown? He may be the most positive and patient person in the world. This is a guy that won 10 games just a few years ago and was still effusive in his praise of his players. He managed to get a roster that was assembled to lose to play hard every night.

Brown also gave Fultz a starting spot at the beginning of the season — a spot that was unearned, with all due respect. Brown took JJ Redick out of the NBA’s No. 1 starting unit, one that helped the team win 52 games last season, to attempt to boost the confidence of the second-year guard.

The Sixers organization gave Fultz every opportunity to succeed. There was never a negative word that came out of their camp throughout Fultz’s injury issues and struggles. In fact, quite the opposite. 

Brown said this in November after the team was blindsided by news that Fultz would be seeking outside medical opinions per his agent’s advice:

“This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard,” Brown said. “But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. That’s what it is, and we’ll support him.”

Does Fultz’s mom think the organization wanted her son to fail? The player they drafted No. 1 overall after giving rival Boston a first-round pick to move up two spots from No. 3? How are you going to rip the patience of an organization that has developed a reputation for holding out first-round picks for entire seasons because of injury?

Even the Philadelphia fan base — which, in case you didn’t know, has a reputation of its own — was shockingly supportive of Fultz. He got a standing ovation from the fans when he made his first NBA three. There were oohs and aahs from the crowd any time he’d shoot the ball outside of 10 feet.

General manager Elton Brand may have ran out of patience once he made a pair of blockbuster deals for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. The Sixers’ window to win is open, but who knows for how long. Considering there was no real timetable for Fultz’s return — and still isn’t, by the way — Brand did what he had to do.

Fultz and his mother got what they wanted with a fresh start in Orlando, where Fultz will face minimal pressure.

Now it’s time for them to move on and stop taking weak parting shots at the Sixers.

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