Sixers-Pacers Quick Takes: Dwight Howard showed great energy in Joel Embiid’s absence
Embiid has missed 110 games the last four seasons, so the backup center and even the No. 3 center positions are crucial.
The 76ers played their second and final preseason game Friday night, hitting the road for the first time to face the Pacers. The Sixers played without Joel Embiid, who missed the game with a non-COVID related illness, but won regardless, 113-107.
Next up is the season opener against the visiting Washington Wizards on Wednesday, but before then, here are some quick takes from the last game before they count:
Dwight Howard’s important role
Embiid missed 110 games the last four seasons, so the backup center and even the No. 3 center are crucial.
Dwight Howard started and showed great energy. No longer a player a team can put in the post and depend on to score, Howard has to be creative in how he helps the team offensively.
One way is running the court. This is the preseason, but Howard showed plenty of energy and spring in his game. Watch here as he outruns the Pacers and scores in transition on this pass from Ben Simmons.
That kind of hustle play, especially from a 35-year-old center, can be infectious. Howard will get most of his points by out-hustling opponents and getting put-backs off the offensive glass.
Even in the second half, he showed a strong motor. Here was Howard at his best in the third quarter:
Howard is among the strongest players in the league and remains a beast on the boards. It will be interesting to see if teams start fouling him to make him go to the free-throw line because he remains a poor free-throw shooter. He is turnover-prone, as he was Friday night against the Pacers, but his best work is as a garbage man, cleaning up on the chances inside.
Maxey’s first-half performance
First-round pick Tyrese Maxey didn’t get to play until the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 108-99 win over Boston, but he got plenty of action in the first half Friday night.
Maxey is a combo guard and he got to run the offense extensively at point guard in the first half. Like Howard, he is an energy player.
Maxey must learn to play at a less than frenzied pace all the time. He was able to get his own shot off the dribble, drove to the basket, and scored twice -- once in heavy traffic.
Here is one of his crazy off-balanced baskets:
Nothing looked easy for Maxey, even when scoring.
While Maxey said in training camp that he has improved his shooting, (he shot .292 from three-point range in his one year at Kentucky), he didn’t look comfortable from the perimeter.
One interesting matchup was former Sixer T.J. McConnell against Maxey, two energy players who didn’t give each other an inch. It was good for Maxey to play against this type of defensive intensity.
Maxey also defended Malcolm Brogdon, who one time took the Sixers rookie to the basket for a driving layup, while also drawing a foul.
Again, this is good for Maxey’s education. He doesn’t back down, but his offensive and defensive game need refinement. Whether he gets the minutes in the regular season to work at his game, remains to be seen.
The Pacers ran a lot of pick-and-rolls, and Pacers power forward/center Domantas Sabonis kept feasting off the play. On the play below, Sabonis and Victor Oladipo play a text-book two-man game, with Sabonis rolling to the basket.
Ben Simmons, a first-team all-defensive player, got caught on the play. This happened repeatedly. So much has been made of the Sixers’ added reliance on a pick-and-roll offense, but they will have to do better on the defensive end.
Take it, Ben
In the last two minutes of the first half, Simmons was open, had plenty of room, and looked like he thought long and hard about taking a three-pointer.
Instead, Simmons put the ball on the floor and ended up driving and kicking it out to a teammate. In the final minute, Simmons did shoot a three from the top of the key, but that went off the front of the rim. He looked like he shot that with confidence and he needs to do more of that when they are playing for keeps.