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Sixers’ preseason takes on added importance this year

Coach Brett Brown says he wants to get off to a quick start, while also getting two new starters to mesh with the lineup

Sixers center Joel Embiid (21) grabs a rebound during the Sixers' annual Blue and White Scrimmage at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.
Sixers center Joel Embiid (21) grabs a rebound during the Sixers' annual Blue and White Scrimmage at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

WILMINGTON -- Training camp and preseason are often humdrum times for a veteran NBA team, especially one like the 76ers with championship aspirations.

This year, however, the lead-up to the regular season has added importance for the Sixers.

That’s because nine players on the potential 15-man roster weren’t with the team at this time last year.

The team is breaking in two new starters -- Josh Richardson, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade with Miami for Jimmy Butler, and Al Horford, a free agent from the Boston Celtics.

A third starter, Tobias Harris, was acquired in a Feb. 6 trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Training camp has ended and now the Sixers will prepare to play five preseason games.

The biggest challenge is having the starting lineup mesh.

After a scrimmage Saturday in Delaware, coach Brett Brown didn’t sugarcoat his assessment. When asked how the starters looked, he responded, “Um, OK. There is a familiarity thing, for sure. There is also sort of a positional thing, for sure -- Tobias at the three, for example.”

Brown was alluding to Harris’ move from power forward to small forward, although he could end up playing both.

The Sixers coach, entering his seventh season, has to tread a fine line leading up to the regular season. His goal is to be the No. 1 overall seed for the NBA playoffs. In order to do that, his team, which plays seven of the first 10 games on the road, will likely have to get off to a quick start.

Yet Brown understands he can’t play the starters a lot of minutes in the preseason games, even though the best way for them to gain continuity is to be on the floor together. The preseason schedule begins Tuesday at home against Guangzhou of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Brown hopes that by the time the Sixers open on Oct. 23 against the Boston Celtics, they will be ready to live up to their preseason hype.

“I have gone on record saying I want to come out of the gate swinging,” Brown said. “I want to be playing as high a level as we can possibly play.”

One of the key things on his to-do list is having Horford and Joel Embiid mesh at power forward and center.

“I think that initially trying to grow the starters is important to me and giving as much time with Al and Joel together as a I can,” Brown said. “My intention is to try to expedite things in a quicker way than usual to start the season well.”

He can’t do that at the expense of a player’s health, especially Embiid’s. On Saturday it was decided that Embiid would play only the first half.

Embiid likely won’t play heavy minutes in the preseason games.

While many veterans are counting the days until the regular season begins, Horford isn’t one of them. Entering his 13th season, he spent nine years in Atlanta and the last three in Boston. He believes he has a lot to learn before facing his former team in the opener.

“It is like going back to school and it does take time,” Horford said. “That is why I am happy we have a couple of weeks in preseason to work all that out and feel good about it.”