Even without Joel Embiid Monday night, the Philadelphia 76ers moved to 3-0 this preseason with a 113-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tyrese Maxey has officially unlocked his next level of Super Saiyan transformation; he is now 8-of-12 from three-point range this preseason, averaging 20 points on 18 minutes per game. Little-known fact: when Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, they were referring to this 21-year-old’s ceiling.
Intriguingly, Monday was also a showcase for some Doc Rivers outside-the-box thinking. With Embiid resting back in Philadelphia, Rivers started 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker as a small-ball center. He went with a three-guard line-up to open the game with De’Anthony Melton joining the usual backcourt duo of Maxey and James Harden. Paul Reed continued to receive the backup center minutes (Montrezl Harrell was unavailable Wednesday due to a strained rib muscle, but Reed has gotten those minutes throughout the preseason).
Rivers wasn’t able to golf this summer following hip replacement surgery. Did he instead spend his time listening to podcasts where Sixers reporters/bloggers griped about his shortcomings and set out to correct them? Maybe! Whatever the case, this is either some high-quality trolling or a terrific sign for Doc’s roster flexibility moving forward. I guess we’ll find out when the games start counting.
The Sixers look to have settled on their final roster with Trevelin Queen being released earlier in the week and Charles Bassey not even seeing the court when benches emptied on Monday. With a much deeper roster this year, there’s still some ambiguity surrounding the last spot or two as far as rotational minutes. That’s one item to watch, in addition to how the newcomers play off Joel Embiid. Embiid sat out both road contests this preseason, so we haven’t gotten to see much of his meshing with Tucker, Melton, and Danuel House Jr. It’ll likely be less than a half, if that, tonight, but still something to monitor.
On the opposing sideline, the signs are not nearly as positive for the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets are 0-4 this preseason, and sure, it’s only preseason, but that’s not great. More concerningly, All-Star LaMelo Ball was just diagnosed with a Grade 2 left ankle sprain and will miss time into the regular season. The injury happened in Monday night’s preseason game, which is the last thing you want to occur in these tune-up contests.
Moreover, the only significant addition to Charlotte’s roster since last offseason was 15th overall pick Mark Williams out of Duke. Not saying Williams will or will not prove to be a good pick, but odds are a center taken midway through the first round won’t provide an instant impact.
Restricted free agent Miles Bridges is not with the team, awaiting a court case while facing three felony domestic violence charges, which could lead to up to 12 years in prison. No one knows what his future in the league might or not be.
Head coach Steve Clifford is back in Charlotte for his second time with the team. I’m not sure how much he can do with a roster that is likely to be worse off than last year’s Play-In Tournament squad. If the Hornets struggle out of the gate with Ball missing a couple weeks and things snowball, might they eventually shut down some veterans and enter the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes in earnest? We will see.
Luckily, the Sixers do not find themselves in such a position. Let’s enjoy one final exhibition contest before this revamped roster puts the pedal to the metal in regular season play next week.