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.
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