Usually, a preseason opener puts an end to what had felt like an eternity since last seeing our favorite basketball team on the court. But this is 2020, where time has lost all meaning, and in the wake of a truncated offseason, it ironically feels like just yesterday that the Sixers were swept out of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics.
Tonight, Philadelphia will square off against those same Celtics, but the vibes around this Sixers franchise have completed changed since late August. A new head coach paces the sideline, a new lead decision maker in the front office oversees the roster, one of the team’s two universally derided contracts is off the books, and over half the players that take the court tonight were not in a Sixers uniform four months ago, be it a “New Philadelphia”-inspired edition or otherwise.
With the Sixers only slated to play two preseason games and the regular season just eight days away, there is plenty to keep an eye on in tonight’s exhibition. Will Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons hint at elevated facets of their games and to what extent will the roster’s improved spacing benefit them? And how much will we see the two stars in pick-and-roll actions, something that has been mentioned repeatedly throughout training camp?
Can the reunion with former coach Doc Rivers and a full-time shift back to power forward reinvigorate Tobias Harris? Is sharpshooter Seth Curry’s arrival in Philadelphia going to return the offense to the gravity-warping ways of the JJ Redick years? It will be many Sixers fans’ first look at first-round pick Tyrese Maxey, who has not played a competitive basketball game since March. How close is he to providing the creation ability the roster so sorely needs right out of the gate? Of the young guys like Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton, has anyone taken another leap?
Tonight’s action will be a return to normalcy in some ways; the Sixers will be on the familiar Wells Fargo Center hardwood as opposed to the Orlando Bubble. But there still won’t be fans in the stands. Can Philadelphia maintain its home court dominance from a year ago without tens of thousands of fans raining down boos in a motivational MasterClass? I, for one, am skeptical.
Still, there’s nothing more familiar than rooting on the Sixers against the hated Celtics, yelling for Jayson Tatum to finally miss a shot, and then cursing Bryan Colangelo’s name when he doesn’t. Tonight may be an exhibition, but the celebration will be uninhibited if the Sixers can start off the new era with a victory over Boston.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics (preseason)
When: 7:30pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, TNT
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Injuries: None (throws salt over left shoulder)