The 1 vs. 8 matchup between the Wizards and the 76ers certainly appears to favor Philadelphia on paper, but the Wizards had one of the best endings to the regular season of any team in the league. Their uphill battle in the second half of the season to go from lottery candidate to playoff team means they are not going to take this series lying down. Star guards Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal will give the 76ers some offensive firepower to contend with, but the Wizards do not have anyone on the roster who seems immediately capable of defending Joel Embiid.
This is the season that 76ers fans have been dreaming of ever since “The Process” started in 2013. Everything has finally come together for the franchise and the stars have aligned almost perfectly for a deep playoff run. Star center Joel Embiid has played at an MVP level all season, and would have a strong case for the award if he had not missed 21 games to injury. They have finally found the supplementary role players they needed to provide shooting and defense, and Seth Curry, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz and Danny Green have provided them with steady scoring and shooting all season. Tobias Harris has quieted his doubters from last season and approached a 50/40/90 season with an uber efficient shooting slash of 51.2 percent from the field, 39.4 percent on 3-pointers and 89.2 percent from the free throw line. And Ben Simmons has been his usual self on the defensive end, guarding multiple positions and likely learning another All-Defensive team nod.
The 76ers will have a fairly easy path to the conference finals. They will face the Wizards and the winners of Hawks-Knicks, but will have to face the winners of a potential Bucks-Nets series to reach the Finals. They likely view this series as nothing more than a speed bump on their postseason journey, the Wizards have an opportunity to make them notice their hard work to end the season.
The Wizards have had an odd season to say the least. They started the season 17-32, but ended the year on a 17-6 run. They boasted the second leading scorer in the league, with Beal averaging 31.3 points per game, second only to Stephen Curry’s 32. Additionally, Russell Westbrook led the league in assists per game with 11.7 and averaged a triple-double for the fourth season of his career. He had a record breaking season as well, becoming the all-time leader in triple-doubles in NBA history as well as Wizards franchise history.
The problem of course, has been the Wizards lack of talent outside of Beal and Westbrook, as they account for 45.9 percent of their 116.6 points per game without even considering how assists weigh in. Beal and Westbrook will have to shoulder an immense offensive load in this series and some key role players such as Davis Bertans will need to step up and have big games shooting the ball.
What to Watch
The 76ers’ Backcourt Defense
The Wizards path to being competitive in this series will have to involve monstrous performances from Beal and Westbrook, but the 76ers have ample perimeter options to throw at them. Any combination of Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green, Ben Simmons, will likely be capable of at least slowing the duo down to manageable levels.
The Wizards’ Fouling
The Wizards lead the league in fouls per game with 21.7 per game. With Embiid’s ability to get to the free throw line (10.7 attempts per game, first in the league), games could quickly get out of hand if he is able to get to the line early and often. Putting the Wizards’ big man rotation in foul trouble would be a death sentence for Washington on defense with no one to contain Embiid.
The 76ers’ Late Game Shot Creation
A potential obstacle this 76ers team faces is their lack of late game shot creation. Getting the ball to Embiid in the post will be difficult at the end of games, especially if the Wizards double him in these situations. Simmons is not known for his jump shooting ability, so somebody else will need to step up late in games. This series gives them a fairly low pressure situation to experiment with different options. Maybe it will be Tobias Harris, or perhaps a committee sort of system that defers to who is hot on a given night. It will be interesting to see.
While the Wizards have been a feel good story this season, it is hard to see a situation where they’re able to put up much of a fight against this 76ers team. They are outgunned in terms of both size and overall talent, and it will ultimately be too much for them to overcome. Philly will come out of this series on top, and it will not go for more than five games.
FINAL PREDICTION: 76ers in 4
All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference and ESPN
‘From our Haus to yours’