Sixers struggle with zone defense, drop weird, sloppy preseason finale to Wizards

Sixers struggle with zone defense, drop weird, sloppy preseason finale to Wizards


In their final tune-up before opening night, the Sixers fell flat.

A horrendous second quarter put them behind and they ultimately fell to the Wizards, 112-93, in their fifth and final preseason game Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. They finish the preseason 4-1.

The Sixers were without Ben Simmons (back tightness) and Raul Neto (hamstring). Neither injury is considered serious and both were kept out for precautionary reasons.

The Boston Celtics come to town next Wednesday night for the season opener.

Here are observations from an ugly one in South Philly.

• Early on, the Sixers’ offense appeared to be humming. They were moving the ball well. There weren’t many static possessions. Josh Richardson showed off his ability to move without the ball, cashing in on a pair of layups on sharp cuts to the basket.

Then early in the second, the Wizards switched to a zone and the Sixers’ offense couldn’t get anything going. They had a brutal quarter, shooting just 3 of 14 (1 of 8 from three) and turning the ball over seven times. 

This isn’t the first time the Sixers have seen a zone this preseason, but this is the most effective we’ve seen one look against them. You better believe the rest of the league will see how well it worked Friday. Given the Sixers’ size advantage and without the likes of a JJ Redick out there to help break it, I suspect this won’t be the last time they see a zone.

• It was a bit of an odd game for Joel Embiid. The All-Star center was his dominant self for the most part, but the game was tightly officiated and Embiid seemed disinterested at times defensively. At one point late in the second half, Embiid got called for a questionable travel and an offensive foul. He managed to shake it off and score the last five points of the half.

Early on, he made a gorgeous Euro step move around Thomas Bryant for a basket. There was also a sequence where Mo Wagner drew an offensive foul on Embiid. Embiid didn’t appear to take too kindly to that. On the next possession he emphatically swatted away a Jordan McRae layup and then drew a foul on Wager with his patented swim through move. Late in the third, Embiid was whistled for a Flagrant 1 against Wagner. Wagner was forced to leave the game and did not return.

Embiid finished with 17 points (6 of 8), six rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes.

• It sure sounds like Brett Brown intends to get a good look at Furkan Korkmaz early on this season. The third-year wing out of Turkey has struggled to find a role since coming from overseas. But Brown still sees something in the 2016 first-round pick.

The biggest thing that Brown pointed to pregame was Korkmaz’s defense. It is something that just experience has helped Korkmaz improve on. Getting the start tonight, Korkmaz made a couple nice defensive plays. On one possession, he provided solid help defense, helping force a turnover and a fast break.

He continues to flash ability offensively, but went just 2 of 9 from the field. The big question of consistency is what remains with the 22-year-old.

• It’s sort of a lost storyline among so many this preseason, but Tobias Harris’ defense improved. It was one of the biggest concerns coming into the season with Harris switching to the wing but he’s more than held his own. He made a pair of impact plays, picking rookie Rui Hachimura’s pocket on a drive and sliding into a strong position to help on defense and meet Thomas Bryant to block his shot at the rim.

He told Brown he wouldn’t be the weak link of the team defensively. So far so good.

• Brown mentioned he wants his team to play “bully ball offense.” At times, you can see the team taking on that personality. Harris has been one of the main participants. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well this preseason — though he was 6 of 13 in this one — but he’s attacked every mismatch he’s gotten.

Al Horford was clearly looking to take Hachimura to the weight room when he could. Josh Richardson also took guard Chris Chiozza — who he has a five-inch advantage over — into the post. I have a feeling it’s just a taste of what we can expect when the regular season starts.

• This is your almost daily “Matisse Thybulle is very good” observation. His most impressive defensive possessions came against Bradley Beal. There were times where Beal had his way against the Sixers — and fair enough, because he’s really freaking good. But Thybulle showed off impressive feet in forcing Beal into spots on the floor he didn’t want to go. He forced him into the middle of the floor at one point, which caused Beal to cough the ball up. The fact that he only recorded one steal and one block seems almost disappointing.

While his outside shot wasn’t falling, he again showed off his cutting ability. With big men like Horford and Kyle O’Quinn that are excellent passers, Thybulle should get his fair share of easy baskets that way. He got one from each of those bigs tonight.

• The backup point guard situation is still a bit muddled. Given that he started as the one the last two games in place of Simmons, you’d have to think Richardson will get the nod. With Neto out, Shake Milton was the first point guard off the bench. Trey Burke started the second half with Richardson sitting out. Milton was solid in 19 minutes with 10 points (4 of 8).

• Brown lost his first challenge on an Embiid offensive foul midway through the third. It did appear that Hachimura flopped but it was way too close of a call to overturn. Brown finished the preseason 2 of 3 on coach's challenges.

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A sneak peek at the Sixers' 2019-20 City Edition jerseys


A sneak peek at the Sixers' 2019-20 City Edition jerseys

It appears we got our first peek at the Sixers’ 2019-20 City Edition uniforms.

Though the uniform won’t officially come out until Wednesday morning, team president Chris Heck gave us a sneak peek Tuesday during the last night of the 76ers Crossover: Art Exhibition.

The design is similar to the 2017-18 version, but with “Philadelphia” written and the copper stripe down the side. The copper stripe appears to be an ode to the Liberty Bell. Before Heck entered the exhibit, he said the jerseys would “tell a story.”

Apparently, that story is America’s. We’ll likely get more info when the uniforms are officially released.

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Sixers' imperfect fit has led to growing pains offensively

Sixers' imperfect fit has led to growing pains offensively

CAMDEN, N.J. — Through 13 games, the Sixers’ offense has been far from a well-oiled machine.

There are plenty of factors contributing to that. Joel Embiid missing four games hasn’t helped. Ben Simmons missing two hasn’t either.

But the biggest factor — other than perhaps Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot — is time.

Brett Brown, who slyly remarked, “I have no idea what you're talking about” Tuesday on reports that he’s in talks to coach Team Australia in 2020, has often cited Christmas as a time when he expects things to start to come together. Though he was vocal about his disappointment with the team’s defense in their loss last Friday in Oklahoma City, Brown is feeling good about that end of the floor.

But offensively, with his team’s size, it can be an awkward fit. Al Horford is figuring out how to play with a center as dominant as Embiid. Josh Richardson is learning how to play next to a 6-foot-10 point guard that doesn’t shoot from the outside. And Tobias Harris is still figuring out exactly what his role is.

It’s up to Brown and the players to figure it out, but it won’t happen overnight.

“But at some point, when somebody claims that part of the floor, other people have to react to like, well, that real estate's bought,” Brown said. “That takes time. And forget the coach on the sideline saying it, I bet if you ask the players, they'll give you heartfelt -- I hope -- answers on the truth and this is my point: You don't just click your heels [and win], even with talent. 

“This is a different type of team. It's not like you got a traditional point guard, a bunch of shooters, you know Joel Embiid and a stretch four — it's not that. It ain't that at all. I like what I got. I like the people, I like the talent, but it's not a perfect fit that happens straightaway. And that's not an excuse. That's just the way I truly see it.”

Horford’s struggles while playing next to Embiid are evident. His best minutes as a Sixer have been when being used at the five with Embiid out. He’s also shooting just 31.6 percent from three after connecting on 38.2 percent of tries during three years in Boston.

Though he wasn’t as willing to give a timeframe for things to come together, he echoed his coach’s sentiments about the team’s offense — and defense.

“I think we're just a unique team,” Horford said. “We want to play a certain way and it's more in the paint, bully ball and scoring at will with that. We need to continue to find ways to be efficient scoring in the paint but also hitting shots. But I always go back to defense. The more comfortable that we feel defensively I think that'll take us out of a lot of jams and put us in good position.”

There’s little doubt this team was built more for April and May than it was for November. We’ve seen stretches of how good they can be defensively when all five guys are engaged and on the same page.

One area where they should certainly be better and that can help them when the games get tougher is getting to the line. They're 21st in the league in free throw attempts per game. With their size, this should be a team that lives at the line.

Why is there such a disparity on a nightly basis?

“It's a trick question. I don't want to lose no money so ain't going to say nothing,” Harris said. 

When the reporter clarified that it was not a trick question, Harris gave a layered response.

“Look, my whole career I've haven't been really able to get to the free throw line at a consistent rate that I would like to. I've watched film, done a lot of studying how to draw those files and whatnot. It's still a work in progress. I'm not a flopper so I think that kind of like hinders me sometimes a little bit. 

“I think we can find some more ways to kind of get to the free throw line a little bit more [as a team]. Maybe that's limiting some midrange jumpers and getting all the way downhill. Maybe being more physical. But we'll work at it.”

Like everything else with the 2019-20 Sixers, it’s a work in progress.

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