There’s been a lot of buzz about the 76ers’ defensive potential for this season. That excitement permeates the locker room , too.
Joel Embiid, his last moments in a meaningful game spent running futilely at Kawhi Leonard just before Leonard hit a shot for the ages, made it very clear what his goals are for the upcoming regular season.
“All I’m looking to do is have the best [team] defense in the league and have over 60 wins,” the Sixers franchise center said, reiterating his preseason target. “Whatever it takes [to get] the No. 1 seed -- however many wins we need -- we’ve got to make it happen.”
That defensive intensity, Embiid figures, will lead to the one thing everybody cares about.
“Obviously, the main goal is to win it all," he explained. “I’ve got to be the main catalyst to make that happen. I’ve got to do my job as a leader. I’ve got to lead those guys. I’m going to need them and they’re going to need me. We’ve all got to do what we’re supposed to do.”
The Sixers finished seven games behind Toronto last season, which allowed the Raptors to win the Atlantic Division and gave them the right to host Game 7 of their second-round series. Philadelphia was 11-8 when its big man sat out with injuries or because of load management.
Poaching gritty veteran Al Horford from the Celtics could be the wisest move the Sixers made this offseason. Last year’s backup centers were guys like Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe, and Amir Johnson.
Two years ago, the Sixers were 8-10 in the regular season without Embiid, with Johnson and Richaun Holmes the primary backups.
Purists detest the notion of “load management," but after Leonard carried the Raptors to the title after missing 22 games in the regular season, it is undoubtedly here to stay.
“Ideally, you want him playing as much as he can,” said Horford, 33, who averages about 30 minutes per game. “But the thing about our group is that we have a lot of depth. I can slide over to [center], Kyle O’Quinn can come in [at power forward]. He probably won’t feel that heavy burden when he’s out.”
» FROM THE ARCHIVES: Joel Embiid talks about load management
Milwaukee led the NBA in defensive rating -- fewest points allowed per 100 possessions -- went 60-22 and was the No. 1 seed in the East. The Bucks lost in the conference finals to Toronto. Nobody gave the Raptors a harder time in the playoffs last year than Embiid and the Sixers. The East is up for grabs.
Embiid has been second-team All-NBA defense each of the last two years, but said becoming a first-team pick is not his focus.
“Whatever it takes [to get] the No. 1 seed, however many wins we need, we’ve got to make it happen,” Embiid said. “If we don’t win, [critics] will still look at me. It doesn’t matter what I do, I’ve got to bring it. Like I said, I need [all my teammates]. I need them to back me up. We’re all going to work together. … I respect Al a lot. He’s a great player, a great dude. We’ve had a lot of conversations since we signed him. It’s going to be fun.”
Whether Ben Simmons and James Ennis will play in Friday’s preseason finale against Washington will be decided no later than two hours before tip-off. Simmons (back) and Ennis (calf) participated in Thursday’s practice and a Sixers spokesman said they’d almost surely play if it was a regular-season game. The Sixers open the regular season on Wednesday against the Celtics.
* SugarHouse, DraftKings and FanDuel have the Sixers’ over/under win total at 54.5. Caesars is at 53.5.
* The Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ developmental league affiliate, acquired the rights to 7-1 center Doral Moore and a G League third-round draft pick from the Memphis Hustle for Keenan Evans. Moore, a former teammate of Simmons’ at Florida’s Montverde Academy, was in the Memphis Grizzlies training camp and played for Washington in the Las Vegas summer league. He played all 50 games last season for the Hustle, averaging 9.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
* Seems as if Tobias Harris and Simmons have taken on the role of entertainment directors for the team. Horford said the duo organized dinner and a night out to watch the movie Joker last week in Charlotte for the entire team. While Horford didn’t love the flick (he thought there was going to be more action), he pointed out, “I feel like those kind of things bring teams together. Those are the kind of things that help with team bonding and chemistry on the court.” If Simmons keeps hitting occasional three-pointers, that won’t hurt, either.