The Sixers (2-5) concluded their preseason slate Friday night against the Miami Heat and fought valiantly in the fourth quarter to win 113-110. A returning Jahlil Okafor provided seven minutes of competent two-way basketball, scoring on his lone field-goal attempt and finishing the game with four points, one rebound and one assist.
Even in the brief, anticipated appearance, it was promising to see the second-year center mobile and providing another outlet for the guards to look for. While Okafor’s cameo was a nugget of positivity, both Joel Embiid and Dario Saric ended their preseason with impressive offensive performances.
Embiid’s preseason has unearthed his willingness to take shots at the 5 and provide ample production. The 7-foot-2, 275-pound center finished with a preseason-high 18 points (8-of-16, 0-of-1 from deep) and nine rebounds in 18 minutes. He fouled out for the first time in his career in the fourth quarter, but it could’ve been interesting to see how Embiid would’ve handled the late game offensive possessions. Saric played in the final possession had the game-sealing rebound after a Luis Montero game-tying miss.
Saric rebounded Friday after going just 5-of-22 from the floor over his previous three games. He had a preseason-high 19 points, going 8-of-14 from the floor and knocking down a clutch triple late in the fourth.
Jerami Grant had his most promising showing in the preseason, pouring in 17 points and contributing two steals off the bench. The Sixers frontcourt is a budding juggernaut, who fueled their win Friday.
The team will face Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN in their season opener.
What we Learned
Jahlil Okafor didn’t miss a step offensively
It was one spin move into a layup. Against Hassan Whiteside, one of the league’s most formidable defensive presences, Okafor made him look off balance. Okafor’s deep pool of post moves and deft footwork will be a welcomed addition back to the rotation.
Jahlil Okafor with the spin move and the finish. https://t.co/rhmeBBb0tW— Jake Hyman (@RealJakeHyman) October 21, 2016
Okafor will play in his first regular season game with Embiid and his first overall game since Feb. 28. Brett Brown having him play next to Embiid is going to be one of the biggest themes for the Sixers in some time. If Embiid can space the floor, it’ll allow Okafor to thrive down low.
Saric is durable and offensively savvy
The Sixers didn’t need another injury scare Friday night in what was basically a tune-up for the regular season. Saric suffered an abdominal contusion during the game, but finished the game. That speaks volumes to Saric’s toughness and willingness to compete, even if it was preseason.
Offensively, he was more engaged than in previous games. He attacked the basket regularly and refrained from settling for jumpers. Getting confidence in finishing with contact and attacking closeouts could optimize Saric’s ability on offense.
Sergio Rodriguez wants that starting point guard job
Rodriguez’s preseason looked forgettable and concerning up until Friday night. The lead guard contributed 13 points and dished out four assists. The Sixers offense was a stagnant mess in previous games, but Rodriguez’s playmaking and distributing allowed the team to stay within reach of the Heat throughout. He also helped open the wings’ games up offensively.
It was the type of performance that could lock in his starting point guard gig to open the season for an injured Jerryd Bayless. Rodriguez arguably earned it, changing people’s perspective of his talents and future on the team and shooting a cool 5-of-10 from the field (2-of-4 from deep).