With Joel Embiid missing the 76ers’ second and final preseason game due to an illness unrelated to COVID-19, the importance of the team’s acquisitions of backup centers Dwight Howard and Tony Bradley was clearly demonstrated.
It’s not just the fact that neither missed a shot Friday in the Sixers’ 113-107 win over the host Indiana Pacers. With Embiid’s injury history, the backup center and the backup to the backup will be important positions.
Howard shot 7-for-7 and totaled 14 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes. Bradley was 3-for-3 with 7 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes.
“They were good. We’re going to have nights like that [missing starters],” coach Doc Rivers said. "That is one of the things we’re trying to get across to our guys. Not just because of Joel, just because of this COVID and everything else this season, you have injuries, 72 games.”
So the depth will be needed at all positions this season.
“We’re going to have to play shorthanded a couple of nights, for sure, right? And so we’re going to have to try to win those games, and I thought they did well,” Rivers said of his centers. “I thought Tony, the second stint was very good. What we were trying to get him to do, he started doing it, and that freed up a lot of our guys.”
Neither player has the type of offensive game where there will be plays run for them. Howard scored all his points near the basket. One time he beat everybody down the floor and converted a long Ben Simmons pass for a dunk.
Bradley, who played the previous three seasons with the Utah Jazz, said he assumed he would play more when he knew Embiid wouldn’t be making the trip.
“Coming off the bench, I was just trying to bring high energy, a high motor, just effort, doing everything to the best of my ability to help the team,” he said.
Bradley has been impressed with Howard, who is coming off a season as a backup on the champion Los Angeles Lakers.
“Dwight, man, is such a great leader, starting off in practice from Day 1,” Bradley said. “He’s got all the bigs together doing stuff before practice and throughout the games. During timeouts, he is giving me tips and things I can do better on defense, and he has been great so far.”
Both Howard and Bradley had trouble defending Domantas Sabonis, especially on pick-and-rolls. Sabonis, a first-time All-Star last season, had 26 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 10-for-16 from the field.
Howard talked after the game about matching up with great players and what his role will be when the season begins Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center against the Washington Wizards.
“It’s preseason right now; once the season starts, there will be guys Coach will ask me to agitate and get off their game,” Howard said. “I will be ready for it.”
The 35-year-old Howard played with great energy in his 16-minute stint.
“He’s probably in better shape than everybody on both teams, that’s just Dwight, running the floor every practice,” Rivers said. “I’ve been really impressed, I mean, I’ve heard about his work ethic, I’ve never seen it, and now coaching him, you see it. He is such a great example for everyone else, not just the bigs, but everybody on our team.”