Sixers-Mavericks preseason game No. 4: Roster, highlights, how to watch and more

Sixers-Mavericks preseason game No. 4: Roster, highlights, how to watch and more

A perfect preseason is at stake for the Sixers.

That means very little, of course. But Monday’s matchup against the Dallas Mavericks in Shenzhen, the second of two NBA China Games and the Sixers’ fourth and final preseason contest, does matter insofar as it’s the final competitive basketball the team will play before the games start to count, on Oct. 16 against the Boston Celtics.

Here are a few storylines to watch.

JJ Redick and Landry Shamet have been excellent in the preseason; Redick’s 10 for 10 shooting performance Friday was flat-out ridiculous.

Dario Saric and Mike Muscala, however, have struggled with their long-range shots. Muscala is 2 for 10 from three-point territory and Saric is 1 for 10.

There’s no use worrying excessively about three games, but it will be important for the Sixers to avoid having multiple three-point shooters get cold simultaneously. That was a major issue in the postseason against the Celtics, when the Sixers shot 30.9 percent from three-point range, with Redick, Robert Covington, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova all well below their season averages. 

It’s also worth remembering that Saric had a shooting slump at the start of last season. In the first five games, he made just 33.3 percent of his field goals and 21.4 percent from long range before being moved into the starting lineup.

• What are T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson’s roles on this team? After the first three preseason games, we don’t have a great idea.

McConnell has yet to play a non-fourth quarter minute, and Johnson hasn’t played more than 13 minutes in any of the first three games. He joined McConnell Friday on a fourth-quarter unit populated mainly with players who won’t be in the rotation.

It looks like it probably won't be as simple as McConnell being the backup point guard and Johnson being the backup center. With McConnell, Brett Brown said he didn’t play him much in the first two games because he “knows what T.J. is." The veteran Johnson is certainly a known quantity as well.

That said, and keeping in mind that the first regular-season game will tell us a lot more than preseason, it appears Muscala will eat into Johnson’s minutes at the backup five spot. Brown is a fan of Muscala's versatility and ability to stretch the floor (see story).

There’s little doubt that Markelle Fultz’s increased role will lead to less playing time for McConnell. Brown likes to stagger his starters’ minutes, such that Fultz will see plenty of time as a de facto second-unit point guard. The lingering question is just where exactly McConnell fits.

• On media day, Robert Covington said he feels he’s “two times better” at ball-handling and finishing at the rim. He focused on those weaker aspects of his game during the summer, and he believes he’ll be a better player for it.

We haven’t gotten a chance to see much of Covington’s improvement in those areas yet in preseason. He’s just 5 for 13 from the field and has only attempted four shots from inside the arc, making one. While his main offensive job will still be taking and making a lot of threes, the Sixers would love if Covington could expand his offensive game and be better around the rim. 

Below are the essentials for Monday's game. Wilson Chandler (left hamstring strain), Jerryd Bayless (left knee sprain) and Norvel Pelle (gastroenteritis) did not travel to China with the team. Ben Simmons did not practice (gastroenteritis) but is reportedly expected to play

When: 8 a.m. Eastern time, 8 p.m. in Shenzhen 
Where: Shenzhen Universiade Center
Broadcast: NBA TV

Jerryd Bayless, G, 6-3/210, No. 0
Jonah Bolden, F, 6-10/220, No. 43
Anthony Brown, G/F, 6-7/225, No. 14
Wilson Chandler, F, 6-9/225, No. 22
Robert Covington, F, 6-9/225, No. 33
Joel Embiid, C, 7-0/260, No. 21
Markelle Fultz, G, 6-4/200, No. 20
Demetrius Jackson, G, 6-1/200, No. 11
Amir Johnson, F/C, 6-9/240, No. 5
Furkan Korkmaz, G/F, 6-7/185, No. 30
T.J. McConnell, G, 6-2/190, No. 12
Shake Milton, G, 6-6/205, No. 18
Mike Muscala, F/C, 6-11/240, No. 31
Emeka Okafor, C, 6-10/255, No. 50
Norvel Pelle, C, 6-11/215, No. 1
JJ Redick, G, 6-4/195, No. 17
Dario Saric, F, 6-10/250, No. 9
Landry Shamet, G, 6-5/190, No. 23
Ben Simmons, G/F, 6-10/230, No. 25
Zhaire Smith, G, 6-4/200, No. 8

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Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O’Neal was at the height of his very substantial powers in the 2001 NBA Finals. He averaged 33 points, 15.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in the Lakers’ five-game series victory and was a simple choice for MVP.

However, the Sixers took a Game 1 that Philadelphia fans will remember for a long time, led by Allen Iverson’s 48 points. O’Neal revealed on The Adam Lefkoe Show podcast that he was perhaps a little lenient toward Iverson. 

I have a little confession. D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] probably knows this,” he said. “There were four guys that when we played them, I was such a fan, I would let them do what they wanted to do. White Chocolate [Jason Williams] — I wanted him to go to work — Vince Carter, AI and Tracy McGrady. Every time we played AI … I could have blocked his shot multiple times.

“I just didn’t want to. I kind of coasted that year in the Finals where we wanted to go 16-0. We let him hit us for [48]. Listen, Iverson, he had his heart on the line, he played hard, he did it his way. I was glad to go into the Hall of Fame with him. It’s unfortunate that a lot of these great players will be judged because they didn’t win [a championship]. But listen, he’s one of the greatest to ever do it.

Given O’Neal’s 44-point, 20-rebound Game 1 performance, the notion of him taking it easy on Iverson is difficult to buy. Still, it’s evident he has a deep respect for Iverson. Wade and Candace Parker are very much in the same boat — both players chose No. 3 for that reason.

At All-Star Weekend in February, Wade crossed paths with Iverson and the two shared an emotional moment weeks after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.

“I couldn’t do anything but embrace and tell him how much I appreciate him, tell him how much I love him,” Wade said on the podcast. “As I’ve always said, it was [Michael] Jordan, Kobe and Iverson for me. Those are the three players that I modeled my game after — that’s who I wanted to be like. I wore No. 3 probably because of Allen Iverson. … I just thanked him. It was just a good embrace that we both needed at that moment.”

A two-time WNBA MVP and five-time All-Star, Parker had a unique story on the origin of her admiration for Iverson. Her older brother, Anthony Parker, began his professional career with the Sixers in the 1997-98 season.

“I remember one day my brother came home from a game and he handed me Allen Iverson’s finger bands,” Parker said. “I wore the Allen Iverson finger bands all the way through high school. … I was obsessed with him. I remember when I met him, he was the first person I met that he shook my hand and I had no words.”

Both Parker and Wade are convinced Iverson would have benefited from the way the NBA has changed since his retirement. They cited the load management movement as one factor — Iverson led the league in minutes per game seven times and played at least 39.4 minutes a night in each of his first 12 seasons. The two also believe that the league's shift away from big men and increase in pace would have suited Iverson’s game. 

“AI’s one of the greatest players of all time,” Parker said. 

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Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

NBC Sports Philadelphia is re-airing Game 3 of the Sixers-Heat 2018 playoff series Sunday night at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

At 26 years old, Joel Embiid has played 19 career playoff games. The lead-up to the first one was full of frustration, drama and angst.

Minutes after the Sixers’ 17-game winning streak ended with a loss to the Heat in Game 2, Embiid posted on his Instagram story, “F---ing sick and tired of being babied.” 

He’d been a glum observer from the sidelines that night, still out with an orbital fracture of the left eye he’d sustained in a collision with Markelle Fultz on March 28, and had seen his teammates cool off from three-point range and allow a 36-year-old Dwyane Wade to score 28 points. Embiid wanted to play, thought he should be permitted to and figured it couldn’t hurt to let the world know how he felt. 

Not for the first time — and certainly not for the last, either — Brett Brown found himself fielding awkward questions about how his players were being handled medically. 

“He just wants to play basketball," he said at the podium. “He wants to be with his team, he wants to play in front of the fans and he wants to see this through. When he’s not able to do that, he gets frustrated, and I respect his frustrations. … I do know the spirit he delivered that [Instagram story] you just talked about reflects my conversations with him.

"It’s completely driven by team, competitiveness, I want to play basketball, that type of feeling more than anything.”

Thanks to a high-tech, customized mask with goggles that was made of polypropylene and embedded carbon fiber filaments, Embiid was cleared for Game 3 in Miami, resembling the "Batman" villain Bane and the rapper MF Doom. The mask was an unavoidable nuisance — Embiid removed it from his face on free throws — but it allowed him to play basketball again, shifting the drama from social media to the court.

Embiid tossed the mask up in the air, spiked it on the floor and generally didn’t treat the device with much reverence. Head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson got a good amount of screen time as the Sixers’ medical staff ran repairs and ferried masks out to Embiid. Justise Winslow was not amused by the situation. When he saw the mask lying on the ground around the foul line at one point in the second quarter, he stepped on it, then unsuccessfully tried to break it with his hands.

"He kept throwing it on the ground. I don't know if he didn't like it or what,” Winslow, who was later fined $15,000 for the incident, told reporters. “I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

The back-and-forth with Winslow seemed to invigorate Embiid, though he probably didn’t require any additional fuel.

“Little do they know, I have about 50 of them,” he said to reporters in Miami. “It’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. It’s going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

It was a casually bold prognostication, and also not an entirely outrageous one. The Sixers sprinted away from the Heat in Game 3, turning a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter into a 20-point win. They were, without a doubt, the better team when Embiid played.

We haven’t actually mentioned anything yet about how Embiid played. If he didn’t have a black mask shielding his face, the cliched (but accurate) description of his performance would be that he looked like himself. Embiid had 23 points in 30 minutes, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He made three threes, drew 15 free throws and protected the rim well, limiting Heat players to 4 for 14 shooting on field goals he defended. 

Mask on or mask off, regular season or playoffs, he was clearly going to be the main story more often than not. 

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