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October 18, 2019

Instant observations: Sixers imitate dumpster fire in preseason finale vs. Wizards

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In what was billed as a serious tune-up for the regular season, the Sixers played as if they had just discovered the sport of basketball on Friday afternoon, dropping their preseason finale 112-93 to the Washington Wizards.

Here's what I saw. It wasn't good.

The Good

• The preseason is over. Can I get an amen?

• The only guy who I think acquitted himself well in this game was, who else, Matisse Thybulle, who continued a preseason of disruptive defense with everyone else on his team flailing around on the court. It didn't do a whole lot of good, and he wasn't exactly Ray Allen on the offensive end of the floor, but I can't hold him accountable for that turd sandwich of a performance.

• Okay scratch that, I won't throw Zhaire Smith in with the rest of the team either. He came in and gave them an injection of energy in an otherwise lifeless game, and while I'm not going to sit here and celebrate a performance from garbage time in a preseason game, it was encouraging to see him flash in several different areas. Smith knocked down a corner three, was aggressive attacking the basket, and at least played like he gave a damn about the game. More than you can say about the rest of 'em.

The Bad

• Raul Neto missing the final preseason game makes it hard to say with any confidence who has won the backup point guard job. Josh Richardson got the start in Ben Simmons' absence, and Shake Milton was given a chance to take the backup minutes and show what he can do with them early.

What we can conclude is that all the signs are bad for Trey Burke. If he was a real contender for the job behind Ben Simmons, it seems likely Brown would have given him the first-half minutes with Neto unavailable, as that was closer to a real rotation for Philadelphia.

Worth noting here — Burke only has a partial guarantee in the deal he signed this summer, so it's not totally out of the question that he could get let go before the season starts.

• This was supposed to be something resembling a dress rehearsal for the Sixers, with Brett Brown promising the team would take it as seriously as they are the home opener against the Boston Celtics. Someone probably should have reminded his players that, because they looked like a trainwreck against a glorified G-League team.

Washington sat back in a zone defense for a lot of the first half against the Sixers, and the Sixers simply could not deal with it. On many possessions, Philadelphia would drive to collapse the defense and find open shooters, but the players they trust to knock down shots could not deliver. Frankly, there were a lot of possessions where they would have felt lucky to even get to that stage of the process. 

Without Ben Simmons available, this team has a huge hole in the perimeter shot creation department, a problem I brought up prior to training camp starting. Perhaps this all signals one thing — Josh Richardson probably should not be playing point guard for any extended stretches of games. 

Richardson is much better in a secondary role than he is in one where he has to get the team started on offense, as we saw when Miami tried to have him masquerade as a No. 1 option last season. Perhaps he gets more comfortable with time, but I can't envision a scenario where Brett Brown can turn backup duties to him like they were able to with Jimmy Butler in the playoffs last season.

That being the case, it puts even more pressure on Simmons to fix the holes in his game and show substantial improvement in a playoff setting. 

• Perhaps you could chalk it up to it being a preseason game where his effort level wasn't exactly at 100 percent, but Embiid struggled mightily to cover Washington's stretch bigs on the perimeter. When they were ready to let it rip, he sat back and let them as they knocked shots down. When they wanted to use a pump fake to get to the rim, Embiid was happy to oblige them with wild closeouts that took him out of position.

He couldn't figure out how to play it all night, and this isn't the first time we've seen him struggle with this sort of thing. He'll go up against a lot of stretch bigs this season and moving forward, so it's something he's got to do a heck of a lot better than he did on Friday.

• I won't spend too much time on this point because I'm going to expand on it in another article Saturday, but shooting should absolutely be viewed as a problem for this team. 

Tobias Harris is at the center of the issue, as he continues to struggle from deep since joining Philadelphia. The attempts are piling up at this point, and we're past when it could be dismissed as just a simple cold spell. They need him to be an elite shooter, and he hasn't even been average.

• It may be true that this Sixers team didn't really give a damn about a preseason finale against the Washington Wizards, and that's fair enough, but there's really no excuse for getting run out of the damn gym by that team. They're still an NBA team, but it's not like the top end of Washington's roster was responsible for the beatdown. Process-era players like Jordan McRae did a lot of the damage for Washington, adding insult to injury.

If I didn't have to attend their practices, I would say the Sixers need to practice on Saturday as punishment for that abomination, but my impartial ruling is that everyone should take a nice long day to themselves.

The Ugly

• When Moe Wagner hit a three to put the Wizards up 26 points in the third quarter, a fan behind the media section bellowed "WHO ARE YOU?!" at Washington's big man.

While this was very funny to hear, if your favorite team is getting the crap beaten out of them by someone who you consider anonymous, that's a bigger reflection on your team than it is of the dude you're trying to make fun of.

• Zone was very effective for the Wizards on Friday night. It is still for cowards.

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