7.6 Takeaways | Final Preparations

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Prepared for you each week, highlighting headlines, observations, and other anecdotes surrounding the 76ers.

1. Approaching the last like the first

The following is being written with the utmost acknowledgement of and respect for the significance of the preseason (it is immensely important), but by late Friday night, the 76ers' exhibition slate will be a thing of the past. 

And based on how the team has performed the past week and a half, we here at 7.6 Takeaways are especially excited to see some basketball of consequence - and soon. 

The Sixers will head into Friday's game against the Washington Wizards with the chance to become one of at least four clubs to finish the preseason without a loss (Milwaukee, 5-0; Boston, 4-0; and Denver, 4-0, are so far the other three). The new personnel has looked great, and the defense has been air-tight. 

But just because Friday marks the Sixers' preseason finale doesn't mean Brett Brown will treat the tune-up lightly. In fact, he intends to do the exact opposite. 

"We had a plan," Brown said earlier this week about the Sixers' preseason. "I think we've delivered on the plan, executed the plan. We've ramped up to a stage where in the final preseason game I'd like to play like I'm playing the Boston Celtics, then take a deep breath with a day off, and come back ready to dig in."

This mindset makes sense for a couple reasons. It gives the Sixers' coaching staff and front office one last opportunity to evaluate personnel in a setting designed to mirror the regular season.

Furthermore, the players themselves - a handful of whom are still only a few weeks into their tenures as 76ers - get extra reps together before the games start to count. 

And most important, given how serious the 2019-20 season figures to be, it's fitting that Brown is setting an urgent tone heading into next week. 

"It's just kind of a melting pot of everything," said Brown, explaining his logic.

All the more reason to tune in Friday night. 

2. Speaking of those C's…

For the second straight year, the Sixers will tip off the regular season against the Boston Celtics. Unlike last fall, however, the Sixers are the Opening Night hosts this time around. 

As October 23rd draws closer and closer, and Brett Brown gradually invoking the C's name more and more frequently, we got curious:

How far in advance do NBA teams begin diving into preparations for their first opponent of the year? Do they wait until the entire preseason is in the books? Or, do they start to do some homework earlier than that?

Here's what Brown had to say about the matter Thursday, when the Sixers were at that point six days out from game no. 1.

"We talked about Boston today," said the seventh-year head coach. "To go out further is not part of the way I think you should do it or could do it. The pace of the league is daunting, as we all know. To jump a few games out, I don't believe it's time well spent."

Rather than dwell on specific opponents on the immediate horizon, Brown has continued to direct his focus inward, on his own group.

"In general, I like where we're at," he said. "I think the spirit of the team is good. To be where we are now, we're holding strong and firm to our ways that we think we want to play, I think we've done that. I think these guys have advanced along that path."

3. Three things about Joel

When it comes to the preseason and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have been keeping track of three things.

First and foremost on the list is his conditioning, and to-date, the club feels the All-Star's commitment has been terrific. 

"I think he's been so prideful on doing extra work," said Brett Brown. "His body looks good."

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The second item on the list in some ways has less to do with Embiid, and more his teammates. 

That the 2014 no. 3 pick is one of the NBA's highest-impact defenders is no secret. The Sixers' defensive rating dropped by over seven points per 100 possessions a season ago when Embiid was off the court. 

So when the big man is out there, maximizing his abilities becomes an obvious priority. 

"We have to react to Joel," Brown said. "There are sometimes he's going to go make plays, and we're going to let him go make plays, and we have to react. That's probably more of a defensive team thing, but it's about Jo [making] plays and his freedom to do it."

Then on the offensive end, the Sixers are aiming to take advantage of Embiid's muscle.  

"It's all about rolling," said Brown. "It's all about deep catches. It's all about the paint."

In three preseason appearances, Embiid is averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 8.7 free throw attempts (96.2%) in 19.4 minutes per game. He said Thursday he's feeling good, and that the Sixers' success will start with their defense. 

"We're aiming to be the best defensive team in the league, and we got the right guys to do so."

4. Horford discusses D

For a squad that has as lofty defensive goals as the Sixers do, the preseason has been promising. 

As of Friday morning, the Sixers ranked second in the league in both opponent points scored (88.3 points allowed per game), and defensive rating (86.7 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Al Horford is an All-League defender, and also a newcomer to the Sixers. So, we thought it would be worthwhile to pick his brain about his impressions of the team's D. 

"We certainly have the capability," Horford said, when asked about the Sixers' defensive potential. "Just guys giving multiple efforts on the defensive end gives me the sense that we can be very special. It's one of those things we have to be consistent with that every day in order to accomplish those goals. We've been doing a good job of that. We just have to continue to do that." 

5. Thybulle, and calculated risks

At his current rate, Matisse Thybulle has a shot to end the preseason with the highest steals total in the NBA. Not bad for a rookie, right?

Through four exhibition contests, the 2019 no. 20 pick has 12 takeaways, ranking second in the league to only Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn, who's nabbed 14 steals in five preseason games. 

The Sixers have been impressed with how well Thybulle's defensive instincts have translated to the floor. As Brett Brown has put it on several occasions, the Washington product is capable of covering up mistakes.

Informed of that comment, Thybulle humorously brushed it off. 

"I make a lot of mistakes," he laughed. "I just cover it up by steals and deflections. Those are usually a byproduct of me being out of position."

As endearing as those self-deprecating remarks may be, they shouldn't overshadow the fact that when Thybulle gambles, he often seems to beat the house. 

"It's a calculated risk," he said, "and that's been a huge thing with these preseason games - just trying to find that line of how far can I push before I put my guys in tough situations."

Thybulle credits Brown for placing him in positions to make plays, and encouraging him to be aggressive. 

6. The perks of pliability

General Manager Elton Brand designed the 76ers to be versatile, and in the preseason, the team has proven to be just that. 

Whether it's Josh Richardson logging extensive minutes as the Sixers' primary ball-handler, Tobias Harris sliding from the wing to the front line, or Shake Milton assuming a variety of roles off the bench, Brown has had options at his disposal.

The flexibility isn't taken for granted. 

"I think that's the situation that Elton Brand and his front office have created for me," Brown said this week. "We're pliable. We can do some different things. I don't feel a prisoner to having to go with traditional line-ups. I think I can move people around based on who we're playing, and who's playing the best."

A quality that in this day and age has invaluable benefits. 

7. Pelle looks to build on feel-good moment

Cross paths with Norvel Pelle on a basketball court, and you'll probably find out pretty quick the big man has a ferocious side to his personality. The Detroit Pistons sure did. 

Off the court, Pelle appears to be a fun-loving, upbeat guy. He - and his family - got a kick out of his insane fourth quarter performance this past Tuesday, when he played all 12 minutes, going for 13 points, four rebounds, and five blocked shots.

"It was great. That energy in Philly is amazing, especially from the team from everybody jumping up and down and what not. Like I said, it's just a little sample. It was exciting."

Pelle inked a two-way contract with the Sixers this summer. A season ago, he ranked fourth in the NBA G League in total blocks.

"I got a call from my mother, she was super excited. My pops, he was smiling from ear-to-ear."

Then, Pelle started laughing when he talked about the feedback he got from his sisters. They told him he needed to do a better job getting back down the floor. 

"They criticized me, but it's all love."

7.1 Marial Shayok, the Sixers' other two-way player, also played every second of Tuesday's fourth quarter. On the preseason, he's appeared in all four games, and posted 19 points (43.8%), three 3-pointers (37.5%), three rebounds, and three assists.

7.2 While the Sixers were on the road last weekend, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons organized a team trip to see 'The Joker.' Al Horford felt there was more to the outing than simply catching a new blockbuster hit. 

"Those are the kind of things that help with team bonding and chemistry on the court."

7.3 From the Good On Ya Department, check out this video about Brett Brown serving as a mentor to a local boy diagnosed with autism. 

7.4 From the Good On Ya Department Part II, Ben Simmons held his second annual 'Coats for Kids' drive earlier this week. He visited Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia, and provided 600 free winter coats to students. 

7.5 One final note about Simmons - the All-Star launched his own YouTube channel

7.6 It's Blue Week. Don't miss out on all the events happening throughout the region in the lead up to Opening Night.


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