CAMDEN, NJ – There were plenty of moments Wednesday against the battle-tested and talented Washington Wizards – revealing ones, wowing ones, ones that inspired optimism and hope. But those all happened on the road.
Now, however, comes an opportunity, in a game that counts, for the 76ers to make similar type moments on their own hardwood, and put their revamped, enhanced roster – complete with promising rookies, returning blue-chip prospects, and seasoned veterans signed over the summer – on display in front of a passionate fanbase feverishly excited for a highly-anticipated campaign.
Friday, at 7:00 PM EST, the Sixers begin their slate of 40 contests at The Center (their 41st ‘home game’ will be held in London, as part of the NBA’s annual ‘Global Games’ series), hosting Atlantic Division foe the Boston Celtics (NBC Sports Philadelphia; 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network).
For a head coach who has long discussed his desire to construct a team that mirrors, in part, the personality of the city it represents, the Sixers’ 2017 home opener will give Brett Brown and his group a preliminary chance to begin making good on that pledge in earnest.
“The only thing that’s ever been on my mind is you want to come in and you want to do your job, you want to do a good job,” Brown said Thursday, following a light practice in Camden consisting mostly of film review and shooting. “You just want to put in good days.”
And the end goal since Brown’s arrival in August of 2013 is that these “good days” add up in the form of a sustained winner that’s tough, and competes with a defense-first mindset, high-energy system, and blue-collar work ethic. The 56-year old realizes full well – and appreciates – that Philadelphia has followed along with dutiful patience and loyalty the past four seasons, and that expectations are heightened this fall.
“Never did you really feel the pressure, never did you really feel anything else but the opportunity and responsibility,” said Brown. “I’m confident with what we’ve built that we can deliver this year’s team to a court knowing the base is there, there are people that we really like and see as part of the future, there’s a culture that’s slowly being built, and a system of how we want to play offense and defense that’s slowly being built.”
Saying he was “feeling great” Thursday on the heels of logging nearly 27 minutes of action in Washington Wednesday, Joel Embiid – figuratively and literally – symbolizes one of the primary sources of promise surrounding the Sixers. He cranked out 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Wizards, and told reporters the following afternoon he intends to “keep that going.”
The big man’s next opportunity to do so is Friday.
“I can’t wait – the atmosphere I think is going crazy,” said Embiid, referring to the Sixers’ first home outing of the new year. “We got the two rookies in Ben [Simmons] and Markelle [Fultz]. I’m sure the crowd is excited to see them.”
Based on the sizable contingent of “Trust the Process”-chanting supporters who showed up Wednesday at Capital One Arena, Embiid’s hunch has a good chance of being right. Over the course of his tenure in Philadelphia, the 7-footer has managed to establish a deep connection with the town, through both his play, and social media presence.
“Philly fans are passionate, and I love that about them,” Embiid said Thursday. “I just love that type of atmosphere, and it gets me going to.”
Just how hyped is Philadelphia for 2017-2018? Some numbers paint a pretty good picture.
Already, the Sixers have signed up over 14,000 people for its Society 76 ticket program, which has a waiting list that continues to grow. For some time now, the allotment of The Center’s 20,478 seats for Friday’s match-up with Boston has been spoken for.
During a breakout stretch last January that saw the Sixers rack up seven home victories en route to posting a 10-5 record for the month, the squad got a solid sense of what could ultimately be. The mission this season, according to Robert Covington, is even more sell out crowds.
“We’ve seen previous times of the year last year, we’ve seen what it’s capable of,” the Sixers’ longest-tenured player said Thursday. “Now, we’re trying to bring that same atmosphere here throughout the year.”
“For me, I’m very proud of what we’ve done to date,” Brown said. “That certainly will be better realized when you repetitively win.”
The Boston Celtics (0-2) finished atop the Eastern Conference at the end of last year’s regular season, then proceeded to make two All-Star additions this summer in Gordon Hayward, and Kyrie Irving.
Hayward, unfortunately, sustained a severe leg injury minutes into the C’s opener on Tuesday, and will reportedly be sidelined for the rest of the year.
“I think they’re going to play more free, a little bit, maybe empower Jayson Tatum a little bit more, everybody else is going to have a little more of a green light,” said Brett Brown. “You’re probably going to see a little bit more offensive emphasis from Jaylen Brown. I think every one of those guys will probably…be expected to do more.”
Regardless of who’s playing for the C’s, Brown expects Brett Stevens’ squad to bring a scrappy, tough spirit to the floor.
“I think that they’re very talented still,” Brown said, “and they’re going to come in here looking for their first win.”
• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network