Game Preview | The Journey Begins

by Lauren Rosen

For the second time in 2020, we can officially say:

Basketball is back.

The 76ers, after an undefeated (2-0) preseason, will host the Washington Wizards at The Center Wednesday to tip off their 2020-21 regular season.

Newness surrounds this Sixer team, with Wednesday’s game marking the first of the Doc Rivers era.

Decorated veterans including Danny Green, Dwight Howard, and Seth Curry are set to make their Sixers debuts, and rookies like Tyrese Maxey - who turned heads in preseason play - could play their first NBA minutes. 

Reflecting on the condensed preseason, Rivers says he feels particularly confident with his team in a couple key areas:

“I love where we’re at with our spirit, and the way we’re thinking as a team,” Rivers said after Tuesday’s practice. “Defensively, I think we’re almost where we should be.”

The head coach added that while the team has development and gelling still to do on the offensive end, there have been plenty of promising signs there too.

Two of them? All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who have each expressed their ambitions to take this team all the way, and bring an NBA Championship to the City of Philadelphia.

“The goal this year is to win the whole thing,” Embiid said Tuesday.

Embiid showed promise for what’s to come in the team’s first preseason appearance, scoring 18 points in 17 minutes, along with three points, two assists, and two steals. He also went a flawless 6-for-6 from the stripe.

Like Rivers, Embiid believes this team’s defensive potential could make it unstoppable.

“With Ben guarding the ball, and me being at the rim, and protecting the rim, making sure no one gets there... we’ve got the potential to be the best defensive team in the league.”

As for Simmons, the 24-year-old made an impression on both ends of the floor throughout training camp and preseason, bouncing back on a mission after last season’s season-ending knee injury.

"I think the movement, the pace we're going to play with, and hopefully the execution, is going to be a lot better [than last season]."

And you can’t reflect on the Sixers’ preseason - or the year of 2020 for that matter - without giving props to Shake Milton, who scored a team-high 34 points in the preseason, picking up right where he left off, with confidence.

“Shake could be a starter or a sixth man,” Rivers said even before preseason play began. “Shake is going to be a heck of a basketball player. You can see it all over him.”

As for the newcomers, Tobias Harris - who remains one of the team’s most outspoken leaders - offered praise to the team’s rookies and younger players, who are each adapting to uncharted territory, in a hurry.

“They’re hard workers. They listen. They want to get better. They ask a lot of good questions.”

It’s a roster exuding potential, from top to bottom, leading to healthy optimism among players and staff alike.

Led by the team’s top talent, Rivers likes their chances:

“We have Ben Simmons on our basketball team. We have Joel Embiid on our basketball team. Right now, teams that have two NBA All-Stars, and two All-Defensive players, tend to fare well. I think we are special in that regard.”

Opponent Outlook:

Wednesday also marks Washington’s season opener, with Russell Westbrook making his official debut with the Wizards. Westbrook joins fellow All-Star Bradley Beal after the Wizards and Rockets swapped Westbrook for John Wall earlier this month.

The Wizards dropped their first two preseason games, to Brooklyn and Detroit, before beating the Pistons Saturday, 99-96.

Follow Along:

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic

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