3 observations after Sixers complete an unbeaten preseason


No games have counted yet, but it's notable that the 2022-23 Sixers have yet to lose.

The team finished a 4-0 preseason Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center with a 99-94 win over the Hornets. 

Joel Embiid had 19 points on 8-for-17 shooting and six rebounds. James Harden posted 17 points (6-for-15 shooting) and five assists. 

The Hornets' LaMelo Ball (left ankle sprain) and PJ Washington (right ankle sprain) were out.

The Sixers signed and subsequently waived Skylar Mays on Wednesday. Along with Mays, the team also recently signed and then waived Mac McClung, Patrick McCaw and Justin Smith. All those players are expected to join the Delaware Blue Coats at training camp. 

Opening night for the Sixers will be Tuesday in Boston against the Celtics. 

Here are observations on the Sixers' victory over Charlotte: 

Running things through the All-Stars 

The Sixers had everyone available Wednesday and started the game with their first unit of Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker and Embiid.

Harden and Embiid combined for 18 of the team’s 27 first-quarter points. While Charlotte is not a formidable defensive team and the occasion felt very low stakes (as it indeed was), both All-Stars showed flashes of their usual form. Neither was brilliant, but of course each has higher gears they’ll expect to access soon. 

Embiid made several mid-range jumpers against Mason Plumlee. He picked up two early fouls, while Plumlee managed to accumulate three in under five minutes. Nick Richards struggled to handle Embiid, conceding a layup to him inside after a missed Gordon Hayward free throw, biting on a pump fake, and contesting a fadeaway jumper in vain. 

The Hornets’ defense didn’t seriously challenge Harden. He strolled into one of the easier wing threes he’ll take this season in the first quarter. The 33-year-old converted another from a near-identical spot later in the period off of a De’Anthony Melton fast-break feed. When he drew Plumlee in isolation late in the second quarter, Harden had no problem shaking him with a crossover. 

There were a few reminders Wednesday that former Rockets Tucker and Montrezl Harrell aren’t having to build pick-and-roll chemistry with Harden from scratch. On the Sixers’ second possession, Tucker comfortably transitioned from a pick-and-roll to assist a Maxey corner three. Harrell rolls hard and fast, and he’s eager to snare any possible offensive board. 

A collision between Embiid and Tucker with 1:47 to go in the second quarter looked like it might wind up overshadowing any nicely executed action or casual transition defense.

Embiid stayed down on the court for a while after the play but remained in the game. Tucker headed to the locker room, but he returned to warm up with his teammates before the second half. Though he flexed his knee a few times before launching corner threes, he didn’t appear concerned and played the first 5:43 of the third quarter. 

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers' main takeaway on the game was very simple.

“We are healthy," he said slowly, then let out a big laugh.

Tucker didn’t take a shot in 19 minutes of action and Harris went 0 for 5 from the floor. Maxey had by far his worst shooting performance of an otherwise splendid preseason, going 3 for 13. 

Trimming down the rotation 

Harden played all but the last 34.5 seconds of the opening quarter and Harris went the entire period. 

Nine Sixers played in the first half. Melton served as the team’s sixth man, Harrell the backup center. Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz — three players in the Sixers’ postseason rotation mix last year — did not appear until after halftime. Milton was the only one of that trio to play in the third quarter. 

The Sixers are still learning which lineups they like best, though Rivers suggested a nine-man rotation might make most sense despite the team's upgraded depth.

“This will be more of a stagger group, at least early on," he said, “and the reason is we have literally four guys that I look at — between Joel, James, Tyrese and Tobias — that you should try to have two on the floor. By doing that, obviously you will shorten your rotation.

“I also love teams when you have the 10-man rotation and can have two different groups. I don’t know if this will be the team. I think this team will be a mix most of the year, but we’ll see. Things can change."

Harrell (14 points, six rebounds) was deemed good to go after missing the Sixers’ win Monday in Cleveland because of an intercostal strain. He does a lot well offensively, but the rim protection decline will likely be steep when the 28-year-old subs in for Embiid. It’s also clear that Paul Reed’s presence allows the Sixers to be more flexible with their schemes compared to when Harrell is at center. Reed looks to have significant advantages in terms of both pure nimbleness and intuitive knack for steals, deflections and blocks. Switching and blitzing play to his strengths.

Harrell did notch two blocks of his own against Charlotte, including a swat of James Bouknight on the third quarter’s final play. His energy isn’t exactly difficult to detect; after grabbing his own miss and making a layup late in the third, Harrell screamed in celebration and pounded his fists against his temple. 

Rotations and internal competitions are always fluid early in a season, but it will be fascinating to see how the Harrell-Reed situation plays out. Rivers said Sunday that he thinks “both of them will end up playing every night.”

On Wednesday, he reiterated that he indeed views the backup center spot as "fluid." 

“There will be times where one will play," he said. “There will be times where both will play and one will play the four, at times, with Joel. It’s good to have them both.”

Who's on opening-night roster?

The Sixers' two-way contract players got to play the decisive moments.

Julian Champagnie cleaned up a Charlie Brown Jr. miss and scored inside to put the Sixers up 87-85 in the fourth. Brown's free throw after an acrobatic and-one layup extended the Sixers' lead to six, and a Thybulle "pick-six" iced the game. 

Michael Foster Jr., a rookie big man on an Exhibit 10 contract, also played late in the fourth. 

Neither Isaiah Joe nor Charles Bassey were on the floor at all Wednesday. It had seemed entering the preseason that the Sixers were likely to choose between Joe, Bassey and Trevelin Queen (waived Sunday, now on a two-way deal with the Pacers) for their final opening-night roster spot. 

Though Joe has appeared the favorite among that group, the DNPs for himself and Bassey in the preseason finale didn't add any clarity. The Sixers will need to have their roster for Game 1 (maximum of 15 players plus two on two-way contracts) by Monday at 5 p.m. ET.

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