After what honestly felt like years of our lives, the Philadelphia 76ers return to the court today for the first time since March 11, facing the Memphis Grizzlies in a 40-minute scrimmage from inside the Orlando bubble. No longer will we have to subsist solely on videos of laughable golfing skills, fishing endeavors, and “best shape of their lives” talk. Instead, we’ll have raw, somewhat sloppy, it-briefly-counts-on-the-scoreboard-and-then-everyone-will-forget-about-the-score-forever exhibition NBA basketball.
Memphis feels like the perfect opponent to take on in this exhibition environment. They have a youth-filled roster that won’t need to be dialed back as much as a veteran squad might in easing back into play. Between the likely Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, 20-year-old big man Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke, who wins the award for rookie everyone agreed fell way too far in the draft and lived up to the billing, the Grizzlies have an extremely exciting, young nucleus.
Plus, the Grizzlies are sitting 3.5 games up in battle for the 8th seed, with a host of teams breathing down their necks, including the Portland “we’re healthy now” Trail Blazers, and the New Orleans “the NBA worked everything to get Zion in the bubble and then he had to leave anyway for a family matter” Pelicans. Memphis has as much incentive as any team to gear up to fire on all cylinders when the seeding games begin.
As for our Sixers, even in an exhibition environment, there are plenty of storylines fans will be watching closely. The team will likely debut its new starting 5, with Shake Milton joining Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. How will that group look? Will Shake’s lightning-hot stretch from late-February/early-March carry over? How much will the “point guard” responsibilities actually be taken from Ben? Will Ben’s increasing willingness to shoot 3s in practice settings finally carry over to games? Even with Brett Brown saying he’s only going to play his “heavyweights” around 20 minutes per game during these scrimmages, we should still get a first glimpse at those topics.
Then, there are the non-starters to consider. Al Horford has said all the right things about coming off the bench, and stated he felt the healthiest he had all year right before the league suspended play (a stretch when he was playing some good basketball). How spry will he look? While we may not see he and Joel together with the main guys not expected to go above 20 minutes, one would think that pairing will eventually need to see some time together within a normal rotation. Has a rookie like Matisse added anything to his game during the four-month layoff (aside from Good Morning America stardom)? Who will eventually emerge as the 9th man in Brown’s nine-man playoff rotation (presuming those two and Furkan Korkmaz are the first three members of the bench mob).
Plenty of questions swirl around the Sixers, none of which will be answered today. Still, all that matters is this: Sixers basketball is back!
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL (The Bubble)
When: 3:30pm ET
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia