Game 1 Preview: Wizards Seek to Push Pace Against Bigger 76ers
Sunday afternoon, the Philadelphia 76ers opened their first-round series against the Washington Wizards. The series boasts some of the most prominent names in the NBA. The Wizards, who stormed through the latter part of the regular season to qualify for a playoff, hope Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook can outpace a bigger, deeper, and more accomplished Philadelphia team.
The Sixers finished 49-23 and clinched the first seed. Despite the standard narrative that the Wizards are the hotter team coming into the series, Philadelphia was 8-2 in their last ten. The Wizards were 6-4.
The challenge for the Wizards comes down to stopping Joel Embiid first and foremost. Speaking to the media before game 1, Wizards coach Scott Brooks said, "We know we're playing against one of the best teams in basketball, with one of the generational type centers in the world." The Wizards hope to defend Embiid by committee with a trio of centers that might be reserve players on most NBA teams.
"He's very crafty." Said Brooks regarding Embiid. "He sees your hand like the saying ' the cookie jar ' he goes and rips through it." Said Brooks was speaking about how Embiid is so adept at drawing fouls. "We have to be able to be smart with that." Said Brooks he has one of the things he's one of the, if not the league leader, or close to me the league leader and shot fakes, and he has a really elongated shot fake that really tricks you because he's such a great shooter. He can do it before, and after the dribble, so we got three, we got three bigs that are going to compete against them, and we're excited about that. All three guys do a little bit differently. It's not just going to be on them. We're going to have to mix things up and show different coverages on him."
Beyond Embiid, the Sixers have significant advantages in length and physicality at most positions. The Wizards have deployed a smaller, three-guard lineup with Raul Neto as the defacto small forward. Brooks cited Neto's ability to defend bigger players as a luxury. This would seem to indicate potentially putting Neto against Danny Green on the defensive end.
When it comes to the 76ers and what they will focus on, Doc Rivers said. "The playoffs are minute by minute or second by second; you want your team to have that type of urgency."
Speaking of urgency, Brooks says that there is "No other way around it." The Wizards must play fast to present problems for the bigger, more physical 76ers. The Wizards led the NBA in pace in the regular season at 104.67 possessions per 48 minutes. Brooks confirmed that Washington "wants to play with the fastest guard in the league. We got some really good winning runners, and our bigs are pretty athletic."
The 76ers ranked 10th in pace in the league, so they are not slow of foot, but transition defense has been a concern.
The NBA playoffs tend to slow down and become a half-court game more often. Still, Brooks cited long timeouts and plenty of days off in between games as an advantage for a Wizards team that wants to play in transition as much as possible.
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