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Sixers showcasing Okafor, with more to come

WASHINGTON - Saturday night's game against the Washington Wizards was more about showcasing Jahlil Okafor to possible trading partners than anything else for the 76ers.

WASHINGTON - Saturday night's game against the Washington Wizards was more about showcasing Jahlil Okafor to possible trading partners than anything else for the 76ers.

They wouldn't come out and say it before or after the 109-93 loss to the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center.

How else can you explain Okafor getting the start when he hadn't played a single second in the previous four games?

How else can you explain his playing the entire fourth quarter of a blowout loss?

How else can you explain coach Brett Brown's stressing that Okafor is an "NBA starter," saying after the game that he could have scored "30 [points] in a heartbeat?"

Yep, the Sixers (12-26) were in an obvious, all-out showcase mode in a loss that snapped their three-game winning streak.

As a result, the team looked nothing like the squad that won five of its previous six games. Get used to it. The trade deadline is a little over a month away, on Feb. 23.

It's easy to point to the absence of Joel Embiid for the reason the Sixers suffered a humiliating loss.

The rookie center had a scheduled off day because it was the team's second game in two nights.

The Sixers, who defeated the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, are managing the center's workload. They believe that not having him play on back-to-back nights lessens the stress on his surgically repaired right foot.

However, the Sixers defeated the Wizards, 109-102, without Embiid on Nov. 16. It can be argued that the November game would have had a different outcome had Bradley Beal played back then. The Wizards shooting guard scored 20 points Saturday night.

The Sixers also beat the Detroit Pistons by 18 points minus Embiid on Dec. 11 in Auburn Hills, Mich. On that night, the Sixers shared the ball.

On Saturday, more than just Embiid's absence, it was the way the Sixers played. The night before, in a game he played in, the Sixers had 26 assists on 36 made shots. They had five double-figure scorers, with two others close. They also played solid defense, blocking nine shots and holding the Hornets to 32.9 percent shooting.

The Sixers had 20 assists on 36 made shots against the Wizards. But Okafor (26 points), Ersan Ilyasova (18) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (12) were the only double-digit scorers.

The defense was also nonexistent as Washington drove the lane at ease while making 48.4 percent of its shots. The Sixers blocked only two shots.

"I think when I don't play, especially defensively, everybody has to be focused and everybody has to have everybody's back," Embiid said Saturday. "I think the main thing offensively is just moving the ball. I thought tonight we weren't moving the ball."

Yet Okafor made 10 of 16 shots en route to scoring the game high in points. He also finished with nine rebounds while playing 35 minutes, 28 minutes in a game that was all but decided in the third quarter. Even so, the Sixers played him the entire fourth quarter when he scored six points against the Wizards reserves.

Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel played only 12:32 all night.

There was a thought that Noel would get the nod as the starter since he had been Embiid's backup while Okafor did not leave the bench in the previous four games.

But this will happen again. Okafor is being showcased. The Sixers will have five more back-to-back situations before the deadline. So that's at least five more opportunities to display Okafor's skills to possible trading partners.

That's at least five more times that Brown, probably at the urging of his employers, will hype up Okafor regardless of the game's outcome.

"Jahlil Okafor is a professional scorer," Brown said Saturday, when he could have used a bunch of professional defenders. "He's 21 years old and his defense is getting better, his rebounding is getting better, his positioning and awareness defensively is getting better."

Brown stressed that Okafor is a good human being who is coachable.

"When you weigh it all up and you say, 'Well this is the package of Jahlil Okafor,' " Brown said, "that's pretty appealing at age 21."

This game was definitely all about showcasing Okafor.