The Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum was filled with fans buzzing and players lined up for tip off as the referee was getting ready to swing the ball up and bring basketball back to the Coliseum after a long summer.
Yet, it was not collegiate basketball or even the Demon Deacons that were back at the LJVM on Friday night (basketball season does not start for the Deacs for another month).
Instead, Winston-Salem fans had a taste of NBA action in a preseason game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The change of venues for the preseason allowed for Hornets fans in the Triad to see their team up close without having to travel down to Charlotte. This was the 12th time the Hornets have hosted a preseason game in the Triad and the first time at the LJVM Coliseum since 1992.
The game itself developed as expected. Despite sitting down center Joel Embiid for the night, the 76ers did not have much trouble handling business in a 100-87 win against the overmatched Hornets.
The Sixers were able to rotate the ball well on the perimeter and generate a lot of easy looks down low off of point forward Ben Simmons’ passes.
Simmons played only 23 minutes and finished with 15 points in 6-8 shooting to go along with four assists.
“I thought that the spacing that we had was very good. I thought the extra pass, where they really did try to find each other, was really good,” said 76ers Head Coach Brett Brown. “We missed a lot of threes. But the offense, as it relates to the team, I thought was purposeful, spaced and unselfish.”
The 3-point ball is one of the main questions facing the potential of the 76ers and whether they can contend for a title in 2019. After losing sharpshooting guard JJ Redick in free agency, the team is now missing a high-volume 3-point shooter that can be the reference beyond the arc. The early results Friday night were not encouraging with the Sixers shooting a paltry nine for 30 from the perimeter.
Yet, their stifling defense, which has also been the talk of the offseason due to its rotational versatility, held the Hornets to mere 14 points in the first quarter, as the Sixers jumped out to a 19-point lead early in the game.
“That’ll be one of the best defensive teams in the league this season. They are big, long and physical,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego. “But overall, I loved the way our spirit was tonight. We competed, stayed together and played 48 minutes. It wasn’t perfect, but I think the effort was there tonight.”
One bright spot for the Hornets was rookie forward PJ Washington who had 10 points, five rebounds, four steals and two blocks in his first start for the team. Five of Washington’s 10 points came late in the fourth quarter to bring the Hornets back within single digits of the Sixers. Through four games into the preseason, Washington is 11th among all rookies averaging 12.3 points per game.
“[Washington] looked like a pro out there. [For his] first start in the NBA, he looked very comfortable. He’ll only get better from here. I saw a lot of bright spots tonight out of PJ [Washington],” Borrego said. “He makes the right plays in the right position. He’s big at the rim. He can rebound. He’s got great instincts, and he was a big part of us getting back in the game.”
Despite the lopsided score, fans were thrilled to see some of the NBA stars racing through the Wake Forest logo at the Coliseum. From a halftime performance by the Human Flags to fans erupting in “shoot it!” chants as Simmons caught the ball beyond the arc, there’s no doubt that the 10,437 people that attended the game had a good time. The only question now is when will the NBA return to Winston-Salem? Hopefully, it won’t take another 27 years for it to happen.