No Joel Embiid, no problem.
Without their All-Star center, the Sixers took it to Charlotte Friday night, beating the Hornets, 100-87, at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The score wasn't even that close as the Sixers' held a 20-plus-point lead through most of the game with their regular rotation in.
With Embiid getting a planned load management day off, the rest of the starters carried the load while Matisse Thybulle continued to shine on the defensive end.
Here are observations from the win.
• Brett Brown has talked about wanting his team to be swarming defensively and more aggressive than years past. You can already see the potential of that approach with the elite athletes and defensive players the team features. The Sixers turned the Hornets over nine times in the first quarter, scoring 14 points off them.
Brown said he wants to be the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA. That seems quite attainable.
• While Horford is just a very good player in his own right, a big part of his appeal to the Sixers was how he could fill the void when Embiid is out of the lineup. We got a glimpse of that Friday.
Horford hit a shot that’s become an Embiid staple on the team’s first possession — a long jumper from the top of the key in the trail position. Unfortunately, it wound up being a long two but Horford stroked it with ease. He also showed he still has ups at 33 years old. He forced a turnover by breaking up a pick-and-roll and then threw down an alley-oop from Simmons on the ensuing fast break. Horford filled up the stat sheet with 11 points (5 of 9), nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
The other part of that backup center equation is veteran Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn was solid defensively and had a nice on-ball block of Cody Zeller in the second. O’Quinn’s passing ability has been brought up on several occasions and you can see why. He finished with five assists — his nicest was a well-executed give-and-go with Tobias Harris.
• I’m not sure if it was the made three Tuesday or just seeing a team in the Hornets that he’s scorched in the past but Ben Simmons looked extremely confident Friday night. He hit a smooth midrange fadeaway and continually attacked the basket, finishing through contact. Simmons is at his best when he attacks the rim first and looks to facilitate off it. He was in full attack mode Friday. He had 15 points (6 of 8), five rebounds and four assists. He also made 3 of 3 from the line and was a team-high plus-23.
Simmons was also impressive defensively. He made what was likely the defensive play of the game with a tremendous chase down block on Terry Rozier early in the third.
• Harris got off to a rough start, missing his first four shots and committing two early turnovers. A dunk off a nice set up by Shake Milton seemed to get Harris going. He went on to make 6 of his next 8. When Brown talked about playing “bully ball offense,” one of the things he referenced was Harris taking advantage of his size on the wing. Harris looks like he’s taken that mentality seriously. He’s frequently been hunting and attacking mismatches early in the preseason.
He recorded 16 points (6 of 14) and eight rebounds.
• You can see what GM Elton Brand liked in Josh Richardson when he acquired the wing from the Heat in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. Richardson excels in the pick-and-roll and in dribble handoffs. Brown mentioned how good Richardson is defensively navigating those situations because of his ability to “get skinny.” The same applies offensively. He’s smooth and is a strong midrange shooter. He’s also a good finisher — he features a nice floater and good touch around the rim. Not to mention he’s an excellent passer.
He also had two outstanding blocks where he used his length to close on quicker guards that got around him on drives. The Sixers got a good one here. He finished with 18 points (7 of 14), four assists, three blocks and a steal.
• Matisse Thybulle was the first wing off the bench tonight. He continues to be a game wrecking ballhawk. He stripped Zeller on a shot attempt — it was credited as a block — on his second defensive possession. He then quickly recorded a pair of steals, one coming out of nowhere to pick off a lazy bounce pass by Dwayne Bacon.
Thybulle is like Ed Reed on a basketball court. He had four steals and two blocks in just 18 minutes. He looks ready for meaningful NBA minutes.
• The veteran duo of James Ennis and Mike Scott was solid. Ennis was aggressive getting to the rim and had eight points. Scott did what he does, making 3 of 6 from three. The Sixers’ likely sixth and seventh men look ready for the regular season.
• Raul Neto and Milton didn’t really stand out offensively — though Milton was solid on the defensive end — in their extended time. While the backup point guard battle will likely come down to Neto and Trey Burke — who didn’t get in until the fourth Friday — Brown has been sure to mention that Milton will also get a look. It doesn’t appear that anybody has put a stranglehold on that spot as of yet.
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