Despite a spirited comeback by their deep bench players, the Sixers ended their preseason on a losing note Friday night.
The team erased a 22-point deficit but fell at Little Caesars Arena to the Pistons, 112-108. The Sixers went 2-2 in exhibition play.
Tyrese Maxey had 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Andre Drummond recorded 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Jerami Grant’s 24 points led Detroit.
Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder soreness), Tobias Harris (right knee soreness), Shake Milton (right ankle sprain), Grant Riller (left knee meniscus tear), Joel Embiid (rest) and Danny Green (rest) all missed Friday’s game. No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham was out for the Pistons with a right ankle sprain.
Ben Simmons (reconditioning) was not with the Sixers in Detroit. However, head coach Doc Rivers told reporters he expects Simmons to be at Sunday’s practice, per The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
The Sixers will tip off their regular season Wednesday night against the Pelicans. Here are three observations on the team’s preseason finale:
Strong halves from Maxey, Drummond
Drummond matched up with Isaiah Stewart, a second-year big man who’s similar in his physical style and passion for rebounding.
He exited with 7:19 left in the first quarter after picking up his second foul contesting Grant at the hoop. Drummond looked good outside of the fouls, though, blocking two early shots and moving rather well in pick-and-roll coverage.
The former Pistons All-Star also threw down a Maxey lob. Maxey’s speed and the threat of his floater should enable him to probe effectively in the space between the foul line and the rim. As he further figures out how to draw help defenders, more open passes should become available.
Besides a couple of loose turnovers, Maxey played well. He nailed a three-pointer when Detroit dropped far under on a ball screen and finished the first period with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting and two assists. Whatever his role, it appears Maxey will be comfortable.
Drummond’s coast-to-coast adventures can feel a bit precarious, but he again showed how he can help the Sixers as a facilitator. He dished out two backdoor assists in the second quarter — one to Shaquille Harrison, one to Furkan Korkmaz — and slammed in a dunk after a well-run dribble handoff with rookie Jaden Springer.
Paul Reed backed up Drummond and put together a good night, giving the Sixers 15 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Sorting through defensive uncertainty
With no Simmons, Embiid and Thybulle, the Sixers lacked three of the NBA’s 10 All-Defensive Team selections last year. As expected, the Sixers did not have their best defensive game.
While such a drastically shorthanded scenario seems unlikely come the regular season, the Sixers have obviously thought about how Simmons’ absence from the lineup could impact others’ defensive responsibilities. In addition to personnel adjustments — someone not named Simmons would need to guard the Luka Doncic and Donovan Mitchells of the world — the potential stylistic shifts are interesting to consider.
Would the Sixers perhaps guard pick-and-rolls more aggressively, seeking to create turnovers and spur transition offense? Might they place slightly greater emphasis on defending the three-point line, conceding a few more mid-range points to star wings as long as the team didn’t get burned from beyond the arc?
Zone defense might be an intriguing option, too. The Sixers wrapped up Thursday’s practice walking through their zone rotations. Simmons and Thybulle were the core of why the Sixers’ zone was an appealing change of pace at times last season, but could zone also occasionally be a decent idea as a means of compensating for diminished defensive talent without Simmons?
If Simmons ends up playing and and resembles the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up he was last year, those questions are moot. However, nothing appears certain with him or the Sixers these days. The Sixers’ coaching staff will need good contingency plans, or at least a readiness to adapt.
Solid team defenders who can stay in front of their assignments always make things easier. Isaiah Joe fits that description and absolutely merits early-season minutes.
He scored 14 points against Detroit. For the preseason, he averaged 16.8 points and knocked down 59.3 percent of his three-point tries.
Korkmaz had an off game after pouring in 27 points Monday against Brooklyn, posting seven on 2-for-9 shooting.
Key days ahead
As far as the roster itself, the Sixers don’t have much work required.
The team will presumably be set at 15 players plus two two-way contracts (Riller and Aaron Henry) after trimming Harrison from the active roster. Harrison has been as good as advertised on defense — he had three more steals Friday — but it’s looked for a while like the Sixers are decided on their team.
Still, the final stretch before the regular season will be important, in large part because of Simmons. If he’s committed and willing to wear a Sixers uniform again, great. If not, there’s minimal time to forge a path forward.
In theory, the ultimate end goal of a Simmons trade would be better equipping the Sixers for playoff success. That’s sound logic, but this standoff has placed Rivers and the Sixers besides Simmons in a difficult spot with the regular season almost here.