Before the Sixers’ 133-114 preseason win over the Nets on Wednesday night, coach Brett Brown said his lineups against Brooklyn would look more like those that fans should expect to see during the regular season.
That was a new tune from Brown, who had said repeatedly during the preseason that people should not read anything into his rotations.
But now it’s different. The Sixers have only one preseason game left, and with Joel Embiid healthy, there isn’t any time to waste. Brown has to start figuring out what the team’s rotation will look like, so that the starting and second units can try to get into a rhythm.
“My intention is to start locking into a group that you’re going to see play, and manage the substitutions,” Brown said.
With No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz not playing against the Nets, the starting lineup was Embiid, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick, and Ben Simmons.
With Embiid limited to three- to five-minute spurts for a total of 14:45, Amir Johnson was the first Sixer off the bench. It was no surprise that Dario Saric was the next man up, with T.J. McConnell, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Justin Anderson close behind.
That second unit scored a combined 53 points, with Saric’s 26 leading the way.
Nik Stauskas and Jahlil Okafor saw playing time when the Sixers had gained a sizable lead, rounding out a 12-man rotation that played most of the game. The other players who found minutes in garbage time — Furkan Korkmaz, Kris Humphries, Emeka Okafor, and Jacob Pullen — do not seem to be a part of Brown’s larger plan.
“For the most part, we went with a pretty tight rotation,” Brown said after the game, adding that McConnell and Luwawu-Cabarrot helped bring energy to the second unit.
Brown also used Saric at center in place of Embiid during some small-ball stretches. Saric, playing with the other four starters, helped extend an 11-point lead to 21.
When Embiid joined the second unit, the Sixers’ lead grew and was maintained through the rest of the first half.
Those were all encouraging signs from a team that until Wednesday had little semblance of an organized group and lost its first three preseason games.
Friday’s game in Kansas City against the Miami Heat should look similar in terms of substitutions. The question is how Fultz will affect the rotation.