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This Actually Starts Now: Sixers Show They’re Ready to Go in Season Opening Loss

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

“Trust the Process! Trust the Process!”

It’s a familiar sound now, but this time last year hearing that mantra as a chant seemed like a winking acknowledgement from diehards that what was on the court is bigger than just the game. Last night, as Bradley Beal addressed the Wizards faithful in their home opener, the chant went head to head with his speech.

Later in the game, after it was acknowledged on TV multiple times, Joel Embiid couldn’t help but play hype man:

And there was no better time to break the chant out in an opponent’s arena. Last night really was the product of the Process. All that tanking and games lost to injury led directly to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz sharing the floor for the first time. It was glorious. But there was still a game to play.

Embiid was on a “f-ing bullsh—” playing time “guideline” that immediately vanished as he took the floor for 26 minutes. Was he going to play as much as he wanted anyway, or did his profanity give him a win over the team’s decision? Either way, JoJo said after the game that the rule is, “If I feel like I’m tired, take me out.”

There were times when Embiid didn’t look like his truest self. He relied on his pump fake from three a bit too much and ended up missing all four of his attempts, but went to the foul line twice and ended up with 18 points to pair with 13 rebounds. He looked tired, but he looked like Joel. He came very close to putting former Sixer (and current Sixer Enemy) Jason Smith on the PUP list:

Ben Simmons came out of the gate with a mission to turn doubters into believers. He did that and then some, at one point prompting Jeff Van Gundy to say that Simmons “might be the best player on [the Sixers].” You can talk about highlights (and John Wall had tons) but what stood out about Simmons’ game is that everything looked so easy to him. Simmons grabbing a board, pushing the pace, and finding the open man or using a change of speed to get to the rim became a common sight by halftime. He may not get a double-double every night, but leading the team in minutes played will be a much more common sight. In 34 minutes on the floor, your 6’10” point guard had one turnover. Any injury or rust fears you had following him vanished.

Markelle Fultz was another story. It’s not that he looked bad (he actually looked pretty solid), but he didn’t look nearly as comfortable on the floor as Simmons did and his free throw - though he mercifully shot only two - is hard to watch. Here it is anyway:

I don’t know what any that means but “même incroyable” sounds bad. He still finished with 10 points on 5 of 9 shooting and HIT A JUMPER. An actual hesi pull-up jimbo. Things could be much worse.

Simmons and Fultz are also high-level playmakers. As the team finds a better rhythm (remember the shorter preseason this year) and meshes, you’ll see many of the missed open looks, deflected passes, and catches out of stride diminish. Even with all of that, 58.1% of their made field goals were assisted (actually below their season average from last year).

And finally, Robert Covington’s confidence has to be at an all-time high. He scored the most points he has since April 2016, tied a career high in three-pointers made, and added seven rebounds and two blocks. It was the first time he attempted double-digit threes in a game before December, so you could say he was feeling it. At the same time, Cov’s weakness of actually dribbling the ball led to five turnovers. His +/- of 10 was decidedly un-ass.

The Sixers lost, sure. But what this game really showed is a team that, once they really play together, will be a force. Van Gundy, at another point of the game, said they may be the 5th best team in the East right now. I think I finlly like Jeff Van Gundy.

Other notes:

Amir Johnson looked lost at times, especially on defense, and fouled out after 15 minutes. This team misses Richaun Holmes.

Jerryd Bayless started and came on in the 4th quarter, only missing one shot, but looked like he has no business even attempting to defend. It certainly didn’t help that he had to match up on John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Furkan Korkmaz didn’t dress, while Justin Anderson, Nik Stauskas, and Jahlil Okafor dressed but didn’t get as far as removing their warmup pants. It’ll be interesting to see how Brett Brown handles the rotation until Holmes comes back. Small-ball-five Dario got roasted on the boards against Marcin Gortat and was generally ineffective all game.