By Roderick M. Wilbon, Sports Editor
The NBA regular season starts October 17 with rematches of the Western and Eastern Conferences. These are two of the big-time games to start off the season. Not only are these teams rivals, but the off-season trades have hyped each team up to another level. The NBA Opener begins with the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Boston Celtics, then the Golden State Warriors vs. the Houston Rockets. While those are the top four teams in the league a team to watch for is the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat preseason game took place October 13 to a crowd of 12,000 Kansas City, Mo. The fans at the Sprint Center really came out in droves to support both teams, but Philly seemed to be the home crowd. Joel Embiid garnered the loudest applause from fans when introduced to the crowd.
In the match up Embiid and Hassan Whiteside really went after each other, but the refs were calling the game tightly. Whiteside was called for three quick fouls in the first five minutes of the game. The fouls were touchy fouls and Embiid was pleased with them. The “smack talk,” really picked up with Embiid telling the Miami bench to get him out the game. At 7:00 minutes of the first quarter Miami Head Coach Erik Spoelstra called timeout, regrouping and taking Whiteside out. “I haven’t played against him in so long, I don’t even remember how he plays,” said Whiteside. “I wasn’t even expecting to play 30 minutes, it’s still preseason.”
Miami’s starting point guard, Goran Dragic did not play because of needing rest. The 76ers starting point guard Markelle Fultz did not play because right knee soreness. Both teams had to start replacements, Miami with Wayne Ellington and the 76ers with Ben Simmons. Simmons is actually a Power Forward at 6’10” and 230 pounds. For his size though, his ball handling skills and vision are great, but his size and quickness causes mismatches for undersized guards or big men. We have not seen a lot of his game, because he was injured and out for the season last year. He really set the tone for the offense and got the 76ers going early ending the game with 19 points and five assists in 18 minutes of play. “I was just trying to be a slasher and give my teammates a lot of opportunities,” said Simmons.
JJ Redick of the 76ers, being the veteran on the team and having a long record of playing in the playoffs is the guru of the team. He is still draining three pointers as Redick has always been a specialist. In 20 minutes, Redick shot 8 of 13 points from the floor with five being 3 pointers. He ended the game with 19 quick points. Redick talked about just how good Embiid is, “Joel has the ability to be a future hall of famer and better than three future hall of famers I played with in the past.”
Jahlil Okafor really played some meaningful minutes. He has not played much because of last season’s on- and off-the-court issues. On top of that an injury sidelined him from playing off the bench. He really played well and showed a ton of promise. His conditioning looked to be an issue though in the game. “My conditioning is coming along good good; I’m happy I got some games in before the season,” said Okafor. “As far as more playing time I’m not sure, coach hasn’t spoken to me about that. “We’ll wrap up preseason though and go from there.”
Miami just could not keep up with the 76ers. They seemed to play in a fog. Dion Waiters was playing out of his element with handling the ball so much. James Johnson played well and was the catalyst for the game. The team flowed better when he was in the game. The game was over quickly though before the second half even ended. 119-95 for the 76ers win would end the game. “It wasn’t our best performance of the preseason, but it was an opportunity for our guys to get some game reps,” said Spoelstra. “We’re ready to start preparing for game one, we get a day off, and then get back to it.”
These are the two teams that could be fighting for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The rivalry between Whiteside and Embiid has heated up. We still have not seen both starting point guards for the team yet. The 76ers are on the rise with these hungry, young and talented guys. It was a great match up, that will be meaningful to the playoffs.