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Sixers vs. Cavaliers final score: Joel Embiid tested, Saric struggles in close loss to Cleveland

Joel Embiid flashed some versatility on offense and Sergio Rodriguez valiantly helped mount a late comeback.

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Cleveland Cavaliers Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers (1-2) have been steadfast with Joel Embiid’s minute restrictions in the preseason, as the fragile rookie played just 13 minutes in the 108-105 loss against Cleveland Saturday. We’re basically getting a beta version of Embiid, but these 12 and 13-minute teases have been essential for the 7-foot-2 behemoth.

Embiid looked engaged early on the offensive end, throwing down a ferocious one-handed jam for his first of 12 points (4-of-10 shooting) on the night. Embiid struggled with touch in the paint, botching an alley-oop attempt in the first quarter, but taking 10 shots is imperative within his short window of opportunity.

Building polish on his attempts will allow Embiid to feel more comfortable on the offensive end. It appears that he’s willing to stretch the floor, which could be downright scary for opposing bigs to defend during the regular season.

The center had relatively little resistance from Chris Andersen, but committed two turnovers and had difficulty with grabby help defenders. It’s reasonable for Embiid to lack peak awareness throughout his first preseason in the league, but it’s an area that he’ll have to work on in scrimmages.

Embiid also faced Channing Frye, who leaked out on the perimeter at one point in the second quarter and subsequently drove by the rookie for a layup. The mobility of Embiid was evident on both ends of the floor Saturday, but closing-out on stretch fives will test the 7-foot-2 big man.

He had one emphatic rejection, although it came against diminutive, 5’9” point guard Kay Felder.

In the backcourt, Sergio Rodriguez looked flashy, scoring 15 points (5-of-14 shooting from the field) and dishing out a team-high eight assists. He had a minor impact from deep (3-of-10), an area of his game he’ll need to excel in during the regular season, and hooked up teammates for ideal scoring looks. He missed the game-tying triple at the buzzer, but the team collectively was incompetent from deep (10-of-35).

His development and re-acclimation to the NBA brand of basketball is essential. With Bayless likely on the shelf to start the season, Rodriguez’s flair and finesse approach will be featured either as a starter or a high-end bench option.

“The Process” and “El Chacho” had relatively effective games in the frontcourt and backcourt, respectively, but there was a blend of impressive performances and weak showings.

What We Learned

Dario Saric is mortal and can struggle with his shot

The Croatian swiss army knife’s 69.2 percent shooting mark was bound to drop. With a 1 for 7 shooting performance, Saric dealt with a tougher, more engaged Cavaliers defense than previous teams. He also missed poorly, a couple of times, on his jump shots. Finishing 0-of-3 from deep, the 22-year-old rookie will have sporadic performances throughout the season.

It’s the first time as a Sixer that he’s facing adversity. In 18 minutes, Saric proved to be ineffective as both a shooter and scorer. He could struggle creating against aggresive, strong defenders, but his confidence as a shooter shouldn’t waver with poor performances.

Richaun Holmes could be an offensive presence in the frontcourt

If Richaun Holmes’ shooting efficiency translates in the regular season, the Sixers could have a potent bench option in the frontcourt. Holmes finished with a team-high 19 points off the bench and is stringing together an impressive preseason. He once again eclipsed the 60 percent shooting mark (7-of-9), and is giving head coach Brett Brown a reliable option to go to in the post.

Showcasing deft touch on hook shots and finishing near the basket, Holmes is progressively becoming a more composed offensive threat. He said, in the offseason, that he rushed a lot of his attempts last season. That wasn’t apparent tonight, consistently finishing scoring opportunities.

With Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel on the mend, Holmes is taking full advantage of his teammates’ absence. Averaging over 16 points through three preseason games, Richaun Holmes is making a serious impression.

Process entity or a rookie as a second unit option

Hollis Thompson is now 5-of-20 from deep and not offering anything substantial in another offensive or defensive category, he’s becoming a detriment to Philadelphia’s rebuilding efforts. The four-year guard followed up 15-point (6-of-11 shooting) performance Thursday with an inefficient nine-point dud Saturday.

Hijacking possessions with early, inefficient attempts is counterproductive and failing to connect from deep highlights his offensive limitations. With other, budding options housed on the bench, Brown has let Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and James Webb III loose in the second half of games.

The rookies don’t have the natural scoring ability of Thompson quite yet, but assist the team in a multitude of other categories. TLC finished with seven points (2-of-4 shooting) and five boards Saturday. Webb isn’t a stat stuffer, but is hyper-active on the defensive end and is an athletic specimen as a wing. Brett Brown could decide to give the young bucks some run as the preseason progresses.