The top-seeded 76ers finally know their playoff opponent: the Washington Wizards. Washington earned the No. 8 seed Thursday night with a 142-115 win over the visiting Indiana Pacers in a play-in game.
During the regular season, Washington was 34-38 and finished eighth in the Eastern Conference, but the 7 through 10 teams had to compete in the play-in tournament to earn the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds.
The Sixers, who will begin the playoffs at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center, will be well rested, having last played Sunday in a 128-117 home win over Orlando, when all five starters were given the night off.
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Here come the Wizards
As poor as Washington looked in the second half of Tuesday’s 118-100 play-in loss at Boston when it was outscored by 20 points, that is how impressive the Wizards were in Thursday’s 142-115 rout of the Pacers.
Bradley Beal, who conceded after Thursday’s win that a hamstring injury that had cost him three late-season games still wears him down late in games, scored a game-high 25 points against the Pacers.
Beal and backcourt mate Russell Westbrook will pose a major problem for the Sixers, but whether the Wizards can be even competitive in this series will be determined by how much they get from everybody else.
The Sixers were 3-0 against Washington this season, but the Wizards turned the corner well after they played their third and final game against the Sixers. Washington went 17-6 in its final 23 regular-season games.
After Thursday’s win, Wizards coach Scott Brooks was asked in his postgame Zoom news conference about the Sixers and Joel Embiid. Brooks didn’t spare any praise — for either team.
“He is one of best bigs and one of the best bigs in a long time,” Brooks said of Embiid. “Like I tell our guys. there is no reason to fear anybody you play against. You respect them and compete against them. They put their socks on one at a time like us, unless they do something different and put them on both at the same time, but I don’t think so — that is some tricky stuff there.”
So despite being a decided underdog, Brooks, who began his NBA playing career with the Sixers, isn’t conceding anything.
“We know they are a good team, but we are a good team, just as much as they are a good team,” he said.
The Sixers won two close home games early in the season against the Wizards, by 113-107 on opening night and 141-136 on Jan. 6, in a game Beal scored 60 points.
On March 12, the Sixers won, 127-101, in Washington despite playing without Ben Simmons, who was sidelined because of contact tracing after his barber tested positive for COVID. Embiid had 23 points and seven rebounds, but was hurt that game, suffering a bruised left knee that would cost him 10 straight games.
That seems so long ago. The Sixers are a healthier and better team. The Wizards are a much improved team.
Let the playoffs begin.
In preparation for the playoffs, the Sixers’ first two practices were intense and the players got after each other, according to Danny Green.
Embiid and Simmons are among the top three for two NBA awards. Embiid is a finalist for MVP, and Simmons for defensive player of the year.
Keith Pompey writes how becoming a father has inspired Joel Embiid this season.
What about the play-in stats?
The NBA has concluded that the play-in games are not part of the regular season. They are also, according to the league, not part of the postseason.
So those 50 points that Celtics All-Star forward Jayson scored in the win over the Washington Wizards? Or LeBron James’ triple-double in Wednesday’s thrilling 103-100 win over Golden State?
They will be a separate entity. An NBA spokesperson said the play-in stats will stand alone by themselves.
Regardless of the stats, the guess here is that the play-in tournament is here to stay. The Lakers-Golden State game was among the most exciting this season. The game also generated 5,618,000 viewers, according to ESPN.
Of course, the play-in might not seem fair for the teams that over this year’s 72-game season earned the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds. Then those teams had to play again to keep or, in the case of the No. 8 seeds, possibly improve their spots.
Still, as Tatum, James and Steph Curry (37 points against the Lakers, including some outlandish three-point field goals) showed, these games brought great excitement, not to mention more inventory, for the NBA’s television partners.
Eastern Conference first-round series
Sunday: Game 1, Washington at Sixers, 1 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, TNT
Wednesday: Game 2, Washington at Sixers, 7 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, NBA TV
Saturday, May 29: Game 3, Sixers at Washington, TBD, Capital One Arena, ESPN
Monday, May 31: Game 4, Sixers at Washington, TBD, Capital One Arena, TNT
Wednesday, June 2: *Game 5, Washington at Sixers, TBD, Wells Fargo Center, TBD
Friday, June 4: *Game 6, Sixers at Washington, TBD, Capital One Arena, TBD
Sunday, June 6: *Game 7, Washington at Sixers, TBD, Wells Fargo Center, TBD
Passing the rock
Question: Can they be ok in the playoffs with Simmons not shooting? Know the answer but want your answer. — Chuck Bailer from Facebook
Answer: Thanks for the question, Chuck. If you mean shooting from the perimeter, that just isn’t going to happen very much, if at all, but the Sixers can still win. Simmons still must be able to take defenders off the dribble and to the basket. And he must be able to post up smaller defenders.
There can’t be games like last week’s 106-94 loss in Miami, when he had just six field-goal attempts in just more than 26 minutes. In addition, Simmons must shoot more in the fourth quarter, when he has tended to disappear. According to basketball-reference.com, he has attempted his fewest shots in the fourth quarter, 83. His second fewest have come in the second quarter, 132.
Simmons has proven he can attack the basket. He doesn’t always finish, but he can get those shots and he must take them to keep the defense honest.