James Harden’s status unknown as Sixers gear up for preseason opener in Boston
DENVER, CO - Nick Nurse briefly gazed past the contingent of reporters in attendance at Friday's training camp finale, his face giving hints of a smile and his voice momentarily quieting to a whisper.
It was as if he was telling a secret. And yet, you couldn't quite be sure that he was serious.
"[The offense and defense] are both lagging a lot. They're both lagging a lot. So, it'll be interesting to see what happens," Nurse said.
"But, probably just playing hard on D is the main thing. Getting into condition that you can play hard for extended minutes and long possessions and things like that. That's probably ahead. I'm not quite sure what the offense will look like, to be honest with you. We'll play the game, we'll be there."
Not exactly a glowing advertisement of what the Sixers had accomplished between Tuesday and Friday, but not unexpected either.
It's an entirely new coaching staff, with the exception of a few holdovers from Doc Rivers' regime.
They're trying to learn each other, build relationships with their players, and implement new concepts and schemes. It's not going to come together over night, or even over four days in Fort Collins, Colorado.
In fact, the Sixers didn't even start to install schemes until the final day of camp. The goal of camp, according to Nurse, wasn't to dive deep into the playbook, anyway.
"I think the biggest thing is getting a look at everybody. That's the first thing," Nurse said of what he had hoped to accomplish during the week. "And then get some conditioning in, and then start to implement stuff. It's been a great week."
The "stuff" they implemented on Friday was a defensive scheme. It's one that Nurse has been fiddling around with for two or three years. He thinks it fits this iteration of the Sixers quite well.
"I was running a little bit with Canada when I was coaching them and I think it suits this personnel," Nurse explained.
"It was good. It was only day one, and it was all kind of explaining it and teaching it and then doing some drills with it. So, I liked it. I think it suits this team and I think we'll use it quite a bit."
Whatever the mystery scheme is, even the team's eldest veteran can't help but smile at some of the ideas Nurse cooks up.
"He'll just throw anything out there. Triangle-and-two, box-and-one, or 1-3-1. All this stuff like college stuff. Yeah, he'll try anything," forward PJ Tucker said.
"So, just keep an open mind and give that stuff a try. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. But, just giving stuff tries throughout games and throughout practices. Mix it up."
The Sixers will have an opportunity to test it out on Sunday in their first preseason game. They flew to Boston after Friday's practice. They'll have a heavy practice on Saturday, and take on the Celtics in TD Garden the next day.
As of Friday, Nurse did not know whether James Harden would be available for Sunday's game. But, Harden did participate in all activities on the final day of training camp. That couldn't be said just 24 hours earlier.
Make no mistake - not even the Sixers will predict what that means or what Harden will decide to do next. Conversations throughout the week suggested that the Sixers are taking it day by day.
Nonetheless, daily check-ins with team staffers yielded similar sentiments - things were normal over the three days Harden was in attendance. He was involved in team activities and engaged with his teammates. No one spoke of any drama.
"I think that we still got a number of people that we're trying to ramp up to get to Sunday. So, I don't know how that will go yet," Nurse said.
"We certainly got another day [Saturday] and I think that will be a hard-working, physical day. Nothing is training camp, so you don't really pare down going into that stuff. We're still into getting after it and competing [Saturday]. So, we'll see how everybody comes out after that and see where we are."
If that wasn't indicative enough, Nurse confirmed that, as of noon, Mountain time, on Friday, he had not decided on minutes or rotations for the preseason game in Boston.
"Yeah, I don't really have one as of yet. I'll probably push some lineups and rotations around a little bit on the flight here [Friday] afternoon. But, I think that stuff is just a little bit fluid to, again, seeing how everybody comes out of [Saturday]," Nurse explained.
"Usually, at this time, especially the first game, it's just kind of where they are, a lot of communication with them. How they're feeling. Some guys want the minutes for conditioning. Some guys just want to kind of get started on the minutes and some guys won't be ready, so a little bit of everything. It's a little bit hard to say, 'This is what we're going to do'. And even if we do, five minutes into the game that seems to change all the time. So, we'll be ready to go no matter what."
For the aforementioned Tucker, the best method is to start light and end heavy.
"I think it's a build-up for me and most. Not so much early and then, by the last game, I play a good amount. Just get a good feel, prepare for game one," Tucker said.
"I think everybody, especially now that the games are shorter - there's four games now - picking up a little bit earlier. But, I still think it's a progression."
Fortunately for the Sixers, that's all Sunday is - a progression.
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