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A small-ball lineup featuring Ben Simmons at center is a work in progress for the Sixers | Off the Dribble

Doc Rivers: "It is a good lesson for our guys and great for coaches, too. We can see how teams will guard that.”

Ben Simmons (25) shooting against the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
Ben Simmons (25) shooting against the Indiana Pacers on Friday.Read moreDarron Cummings / AP

Happy Monday, folks!

Let’s make this the start of a productive week. The 76ers have to hope this is the start of a productive work week. They’ll open the season Wednesday against the Washington Wizards at home, followed by road games on back-to-back nights against the New York Knicks (Saturday) and Cleveland Cavaliers (Sunday). The goal is to get off to a great start and carry momentum.

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Sixers learn lesson with Simmons at center

Doc Rivers called it a work in progress. On Friday, the Sixers used a lineup with Ben Simmons at the center position against the Indiana Pacers. It’s an alternate, small-ball lineup.

Rivers hadn’t played the 6-foot-10 point guard at center in any of the preseason practices leading up to the game. The Sixers just threw him out there.

“We wanted to see not only how Ben defends on his own, but how everybody else [does],” the coach said. “The same thing with offense. We showed them [Sunday] they made a ton of mistakes offensively with Ben at the five. They never took advantage of it.”

The Pacers guarded Tobias Harris with a center against that lineup. Simmons was defended by a guard, but the Sixers didn’t take advantage of the mismatch in the post.

“But it is a good lesson for our guys and great for coaches, too,” Rivers said. “We can see how teams will guard that.”

Starting five

  1. What will it actually take for the Sixers, others to pry James Harden from the Rockets? Houston’s reported asking price of Ben Simmons and three first-rounders seems like robbery.

  2. Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey make their best case for a Sixers future without James Harden, writes David Murphy. Friday night’s preseason finale was a perfect example of why Daryl Morey would be operating well within the bounds of sanity if his stance really is “We’re not trading Ben Simmons.”

  3. Sixers-Celtics best and worst: Joel Embiid was good, but Boston’s Jeff Teague was better.

  4. Shake Milton relishes the challenge from Doc Rivers, one of his biggest advocates, to be aggressive and “Be Shake.” Rivers is pushing Milton to maximize his potential after watching the Sixers guard torch the Clippers for 39 points last season.

  5. Sixers waive Justin Anderson and Frank Mason III. The Sixers trimmed their roster to 17 players (15 regular, 2 two-way), the maximum allowed during the regular season.

Ferguson went Australian route to NBA

In Philly, Terrance Ferguson is the Sixers’ newest reserve swingman. The team officially acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a multiplayer deal Dec. 8.

But after his senior year at Prime Prep Academy in Dallas in 2016, he opted to play professionally for the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian National Basketball League instead of honoring a commitment to play at the University of Arizona.

“Honestly, I think a lot more guys will take that path,” Ferguson said Sunday of playing professionally in Australia instead of going to college for a year. “Obviously, LeMelo [Ball] did it. RJ Hampton from Dallas did it [last season.]”

Ferguson thinks the NBL is a good outlet for standout high school players who don’t want to spend a season in college before going to the NBA.

After the season in Australia, he was the 17th overall pick by the Thunder in the 2017 NBA draft.

Also, several high school seniors in the Class of 2020 bypassed college to sign with the NBA G League. The NBA’s new professional pathway program offers financial and mentoring benefits that a year in college cannot.

Players in the development program receive a salary up to $500,000. However, Jalen Green’s earning package could lead to his making more than $1 million. Green was ESPN’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2020.

Ferguson said he would have gone to the G League if that had been an option in 2016.

“For sure,” he said with a laugh. “Especially how they are paying those players now.”

Important dates

Wednesday: Washington Wizards at Sixers, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia

Saturday: Sixers at New York Knicks, 7:30 p.m., Madison Square Garden, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA-TV

Sunday: Sixers at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7:30 p.m., Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, NBC Sports Philadelphia

Dec. 29: Toronto Raptors at Sixers, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBC Sports Philadelphia

Dec. 31: Sixers at Orlando Magic, 6:30 p.m., Amway Center, NBA Sports Philadelphia

Passing the rock

Question: How is the atmosphere different with Doc Rivers as opposed to Brett Brown? — @MattArchambeau1 on Twitter

Answer: What’s up? Thanks for asking a question. The level of focus across the board is better. Whether it is attention to detail or just being locked in, everybody is dialed in. The standout players want to play at a higher level than before. The new guys are feeding off the energy. That has taken the Sixers to another level this preseason.