Sixers vs. Cavs: First look at Sixers' starting lineup in preseason win

3 observations after more big-time Maxey scoring in Sixers' preseason win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

More preseason basketball, more prolific Tyrese Maxey scoring in limited minutes.

Maxey managed 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting Wednesday in just 15 minutes and the Sixers improved to 2-0 this preseason, earning a 113-112 win over the Cavs at Wells Fargo Center.

Montrezl Harrell (13 points) scored a go-ahead layup with 26.7 seconds to go.

Joel Embiid played 19 minutes in the first half and recorded 12 points (6-for-13 shooting), six rebounds and three assists.

Cleveland's Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland totaled 28 first-half points and nine assists.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers did not coach Wednesday’s game because he was under the weather, a team official said. Assistant coach Dave Joerger served as his replacement for the evening.

Outstanding second-year Cavs forward Evan Mobley was sidelined with a right ankle sprain. Trevelin Queen did not dress for the Sixers.

The Sixers will hold their Blue-White scrimmage Saturday afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware. They’ll see the Cavs again Monday, heading to Cleveland for their penultimate preseason game.

Here are observations on their win Wednesday:

Starters not so sharp yet, but Maxey’s money 

Embiid, James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. all played after sitting out the Sixers’ preseason-opening win Monday over the Nets. The Sixers went with their presumed first-choice starting lineup, using a Maxey-Harden backcourt and playing Tobias Harris and Tucker at the forwards.

Defending the three-point line was an early issue; Kevin Love, Mitchell and Garland combined to shoot 6 for 7 from beyond the arc within the game’s opening six minutes. The Sixers were sluggish when scrambling and bit hard on several pump fakes. Maxey fouled Garland on a three-point try.

Offensively, the Sixers’ starters also were initially far from their peak form. Tucker got a good look after screening for Harden and receiving a pass on the short roll, but his floater came up well short. Harden couldn’t convert two close-range attempts. Embiid began 0 for 3 from the floor, too.

Maxey brought his usual juice and picked up where left off in Brooklyn. He scored nine first-quarter points, including a smooth mid-range jumper after he caught a nice cross-court pass from De’Anthony Melton and pump faked a three-pointer.

Maxey threes are indeed a very legitimate threat these days. With a catch-and-shoot triple late in the second, he checked off a second straight 20-point first half and improved to 5 of 7 from long range this preseason. His progress has seemingly been ceaseless since the Sixers drafted him.

The preseason is a million miles from NBA reality, but it’s absolutely valid if Sixers fans have grown a tad more excited about Maxey’s trajectory.

Tucker was scoreless in his 17 minutes, though he evoked playoff flashbacks with a scrappy second-quarter sequence when he dove to the ground for one offensive rebound and tapped out another seconds later. Box-score numbers don’t make the long list of reasons why the Sixers signed the 37-year-old this summer.

“His intensity is next level, man," Maxey said. “He got, like, four offensive rebounds in one possession. It’s great to be on the other side of that. Last year he was getting offensive rebounds (against us). It’s easy to say, ‘Box him out, box him out, box him out,’ but not easy to really do it.

“And then also, he can guard different people on the other end. He can guard guards, he can guard bigs, he can switch one through five. He can do whatever you need him to do. And then his championship mentality, his championship pedigree is something that we really, really need here.”

Who cracks initial rotation? 

With the Sixers essentially at full strength, the bench Wednesday was more telling than on Monday in Brooklyn.

Melton and Georges Niang were the team’s first two men to sub in, followed by Shake Milton and House. Embiid shared the floor with those four second-unit players for a little under three minutes in the first quarter.

The offense during that time was expectedly Embiid-centric and not especially clean. It’s fair to wonder whether the Sixers have sufficient playmaking at guard outside of Maxey and Harden. Neither Melton nor Milton are pure point guards, which is fine as long as the Sixers use them in the right lineups and don’t put too much of a facilitating burden on their plates.

Paul Reed backed up Embiid in the first half. At a minimum, it’s become clear that the Harrell signing didn’t relegate Reed to being the automatic odd man out. He’s played over Harrell thus far and looked worthy of early-season minutes in some form, whether that’s as Embiid’s main backup, as an occasional power forward, or as some hybrid of the two.

Reed hung with Mitchell on a switch early in the second quarter, showcasing his perimeter agility and forcing a tough running hook attempt. The Cavs’ new three-time All-Star later blew past Reed in a similar situation. To Reed’s credit, he recognized the play was a lost cause and didn’t make the sort of last-ditch, low-percentage gamble that contributed to his foul troubles last season. The Sixers would be glad to see Reed further develop his understanding of which risks are worth taking this year.

The team got another illustration of Reed’s versatility in the third quarter when House and Reed rushed out at Cedi Osman on a blitz. Reed ripped the ball from the Turkish wing’s hands.

Clearly, nothing is finalized with almost two full weeks left until the Sixers’ season opener. Still, it’s notable that Reed has played ahead of Harrell in the preseason and certainly not appeared undeserving of that status.

Joerger detailed how the Sixers are aiming to shift Reed's style of play offensively.

“Another one of the guys that is one of the harder workers on our team — all summer," Joerger said. “He wears out entire staffs; he wants to be in there all the time. It’s fantastic. It’s the good kind of work. And we’ve encouraged him … the ball’s going to come and it’s going to find guys like Paul Reed. And then to quickly make a decision, à la Draymond Green.

“Boom, you get it on to the next one, you go run the rim, and you always keep the defense on the run. And you can be a facilitator that way. I think he’s really latched onto that and he did a great job last week in camp doing that. Right now, there’s a lot that comes with that and the game’s coming very fast for him still. That’ll slow down as he gets the reps in there.”

Odds and ends

Harrell's effort level jumped out.

Following an and-one layup, he flexed his muscles and slapped hands with a fan in the front row. He challenged for every offensive rebound he could, took a charge, and didn't allow the Cavs' big men to relax at all.

Reed vs. Harrell should be an interesting, highly competitive matchup in this weekend's Blue-White scrimmage.

“The minute you think you’ve got (the rotations) figured out, something happens that trips you up for two weeks and then it’s different," Joerger said. “You don’t hope for injuries or anything like that, but those things happen. I think that’s going to continue to be a work in progress.

“You can look at a bunch of different ways: With the second unit, whether it be Montrezl or Paul Reed, does James fit well to play with a rim-runner like those guys? With that group, will Tyrese and Melton be together, or will we feature more Tobias as we mix groups together? So I wouldn’t say we’re a long ways away, but we’re a work in progress on that also."

Matisse Thybulle checked in with 8:36 left in the third quarter. His first shot was a corner three which struck the side of the backboard. That unsightly miss didn't lead Thybulle to ignore subsequent shooting chances, but he fired long on two wing jumpers.

While Thybulle will hope for a breakthrough shooting stretch soon, opponents are correct to adopt a "believe it when we see it" stance with him for the time being.

Curiously, Isaiah Joe stayed on the bench while a handful of outside-the-rotation players — Julian Champagnie, Charlie Brown Jr., Jaden Springer — entered. Charles Bassey also did not play.