For some people, their last memory of the Sixers is Kawhi Leonard’s baseline jumper hitting the close under-side of the rim, popping up, bouncing four times, and — boom — the season was over. For those who cannot get enough of the team and are starving for some live basketball, their last memory could be any of the noteworthy moments in last week’s scrimmage at the 76ers’ Fieldhouse in Delaware. For me, it was the six consecutive possessions ending in turnovers in the second quarter. No, not a great memory, but Rome wasn’t build in a day.
Tonight, we began to make new memories. We embark on a journey of complete continuity; something this franchise will have for the first time since 2012. The pieces on this roster are here to stay, and it feels as though this franchise has finally established a home, both for itself and its fans. I don’t mean the Wells Fargo Center — that’s been home for quite some time. I mean the concept of consistency. A place feels like home when you know it will always be there. Home is a place of comfort, a place of belonging, a place that is there to stay — and the moves the Sixers made this summer built a home.
So, beginning with the Guangzhou Long Lions tonight, the Sixers will showcase their new home.
Guangzhou Long Lions
October 8, 7 PM, Wells Fargo Center
This game was meant to give the Sixers a competitive environment in which they can establish chemistry. The players were able to get themselves in the habits of communicating and rotating on defense, making the extra pass, anticipating one sequence ahead, and being in the correct spots on the court.
For the coaching staff, this was an opportunity to get an idea of which pieces from the bench are interesting enough to keep an eye on as the preseason goes on, experiment with different lineups and new plays, and force competition between players vying for primary backup minutes at a specific position (i.e., Raul Neto and Trey Burke).
Oh… and BEN SIMMONS HIT A THREE. Do we even need anymore preseason? Regardless, we continue.
October 11, 7:30 PM, Wake Forest University
Similar to the first game, the Sixers are looking to stay healthy, improve conditioning, and build chemistry. However, the Hornets will throw out two-guard lineups featuring Terry Rozier and Malik Monk. Both are athletic, quick, and eager to break out with expanded roles on this rebuilding Hornets’ team. As we saw far too often each of the last two seasons, quick guards have been catastrophic for Brett Brown’s defense. With Josh Richardson, Zhaire Smith, and Al Horford serving as key additions to this year’s rotation, this game is an opportunity to test the perimeter and interior defense.
I’m looking for the combination of Embiid and Horford to wall off the paint and push Rozier and Monk to bring the ball out to reset the possession because the twin towers have taken away any window for them to get to the rim. As for the perimeter, how do Zhaire Smith and Josh Richardson switch out to defend the two guards in the pick-and-roll? Who can dig deep, get low, and prevent them from turning the corner to attack the basket?
No, Rozier and Monk are not premier guards in the NBA. But, Rozier has been a problem for the Sixers in the past and Monk has characteristics of a guard who could manage to hit the Sixers for 30 on any random night. So, this game will be a taste of how the Sixers game plan for quick guards who can wreck havoc in the pick-and-roll.
October 13, 6 PM, Amway Center
This is the most intriguing game on the Sixers’ preseason slate. The Magic have carved an identity for themselves as a long, athletic, versatile team that is committed to getting live-ball stops on defense and beating you down the court. The turnover-prone nature of the Sixers plays well for the Magic. So, I’m looking for the Sixers to simply take care of the basketball. Don’t make lazy passes, don’t get caught in the air, don’t over-dribble. Take this game as an opportunity to work on the half-court offense, which will be more of a focal point with an older Horford now on the roster. This game is also an opportunity for Embiid and Horford to work on their high-low game.
Logic would dictate that we see a lot of Al Horford operating out of the high-post, looking in at Embiid as he tries to establish his position in the low post. We’ll likely see a high-post big-screen-big action with one of the towers curling for an alley-oop. There will also be plenty of opportunity to explore a pick-and-pop read with one of Embiid and Horford making the pass to the other off of a flare screen. You get the point — this game will allow Brett Brown to experiment with dozens of different ways he can use his two bigs.
On the defensive side of the court, this affair will demonstrate how Al and Joel play off of each other under the rim. What does switching look like? What does helping look like? How will Brett decide primary guarding duties for either player?
Preseason has begun, and the Sixers will begin to defend their house.