KANSAS CITY, MO – Just because pre-season games carry no weight in the standings certainly doesn’t mean they lack for significance.
Simply look at the progress the 76ers made in the span of the last 10 days.
At the start of their five-game exhibition journey, the Sixers were a group that, despite experiencing an influx of both young and proven talent over the summer, needed live reps to feel each other out, and get into a rhythm.
As the days passed, the more in sync the club became, and by the time the buzzer sounded Friday at Spring Center in Kansas City, the Sixers, behind another one-sided victory, found themselves heading towards the regular season with encouraging momentum on their side.
Benefiting from balanced contributions from across the roster, the Sixers capped pre-season play by dispatching the Miami Heat, 119-95.
As was the case in Wednesday’s triumph over Brooklyn, the Sixers were pretty much firing on all cylinders on offense. Over their final two tilts, they combined to pump out 252 points, while shooting nearly 49.0 percent from the field, and draining 27 3-pointers.
While he is no doubt a defensive-minded head coach, Brett Brown left the arena Friday liking how the Sixers finished up on the offensive side of the floor. The ball moved, and so too did his players.
“Every coach has a different way they see the world offensively,” Brown explained afterwards. “Mine is through motion and movement – body movement, ball movement. We’ve always taken tremendous pride in passing. I think the pass is king, the pass is everything when you talk about growing a true team offensively. I think that offensively tonight, at times we were pretty good.”
The Sixers’ starting unit led the way, teaming up for 54 points.
Ben Simmons, who served as the Sixers’ starting point man in all five of their pre-season contests, shared game-high scoring honors with JJ Redick. Each posted 19 points, and did so in ultra-efficient fashion.
“I just felt comfortable,” said Simmons, whose hard drives to the hoop throughout the evening paved the way for him to deposit 7 of 9 field goal tries. He supplied 7 rebounds, as well.
“My mind was right. I came in, tried to let myself feel my way into the game. It just came to me.”
“I thought he had the most complete game of any of [his] pre-season games,” Brown said.
Why was that? Because of how Simmons guarded, according to the coach.
“He played about 6 inches lower defensively, and I thought went to a whole other place athletically, and I think offensively, he was just incredibly efficient.”
Redick, meanwhile, in just 20 minutes, put his signature sharpshooting touch on display, burying 6 of 11 shots, and 5 of 6 3-point heaves. He exited the pre-season having reached double-digits in all four of his appearances, going 12 of 14 from beyond the arc.
“It doesn’t hurt to just have a good-shooting preseason,” Redick said. “I’ve had it both ways throughout my career – I’ve had slow starts to the regular season, I’ve had fast starts to the regular season. I’m a big believer in the law of averages. It kind of events out.”
Back in action just 45 miles east of the college campus where he solidified his status as a prospect with generational potential, Joel Embiid logged 14 minutes, 33 seconds Friday. The former Kansas Jayhawk received an enthusiastic ovation during pre-game introductions, and accounted for 5 points and 7 rebounds.
The measure of Embiid’s impact, however, wasn’t completely manifested in Friday’s box score. Within 2 minutes, 21 seconds of the ball being tipped, he forced Miami to pull its own paint-patrolling, rim-protecting center, Hassan Whiteside. That’s because the 7-footer, while attempting to defend Embiid, quickly racked up 3 personal fouls.
“When you look at the stats, you’re going to say they didn’t appear to be that dominant, but it’s so far from the truth,” Brown said of Embiid’s performance. “He still has that presence, that mentality, and that cocky aggression that we love. It was easier to point to his stats from the [Brooklyn] game than it is tonight, but I thought he was still really good.”
Embiid seemed satisfied that the Sixers punctuated their preseason on an auspicious note. He said it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of being so close to KU, and having plenty of supporters in the house.
“Those fans love me, I love them,” said Embiid.
With Whiteside watching from the sideline, the Sixers swiftly intensified their attack. Using a bevy of early threes, plus a pretty alley-oop slam from Jerryd Bayless to Ben Simmons sprinkled in between, the hosts (yes, the Sixers – with Franklin and the Dunk Squad in tow – were the designated home team Friday) opened up a double-digit edge that ultimately swelled to 26 points.
Along the way, the Sixers received helpful contributions from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. In his third pre-season outing, the rising second-year French swingman tallied 17 points. His constant cutting resulted in 11 attempts from the foul line, where he sunk all but one.
“I thought he played downhill, I thought he attacked well, I thought he was relentless on trying to get to the rim,” Brown said. “He was physical in trying to probe his way to the basket. He’s a track star in open court. He guarded, he moved his feet, he absorbed drives. I thought he was really good, defensively.”
Shortly after Friday’s pre-season finale wrapped up, Robert Covington assumed a relaxed position in the chair in front of his locker stall. The organization’s longest-tenured player, he was pleased with the strides he and his teammates made since their October 6th exhibition debut.
At the same time, Covington sounded very much aware that the Sixers have plenty of room to grow.
“We just got Jo back, trying to put pieces together,” said Covington. “We’re seeing how everything’s flowing. We kind of got an idea, but the preseason was really good for us.”
The challenge for the Sixers is now to continue building upon their pre-season positives when the games begin to count for real.
JJ Redick, on the cusp of his 12th NBA season, had the touch working smooth and pure Friday.
We’ll also throw in a highlight from Ben Simmons’ promising night.
Almost time to start playing for keeps. Next the Sixers are in action on Wednesday, October 18th at Capital One Arena, it will be for their regular season opener versus the Washington Wizards. Led by four-time All-Star point guard John Wall, coming off his best season as a pro, Washington will be looking to build off a quality 2016-2017 campaign, which saw the Wizards earn their highest win total (49) in more than four decades.