Before the Sixers headed down to Washington, where they hope to extend a four-game winning streak on Thursday, they sped things up inside their Camden practice facility.
While their next opponent, the Wizards (6-13), don’t pose a defensive challenge, the D.C team has established itself as a fast-paced squad, one the Sixers (15-6) have focused in on during rare back-to-back off days.
Coach Brett Brown said his team used the days to first regroup and then to up the tempo of practice to ready for the Wizards, which they’ll face on the road where they have not been as dominant.
With Monday’s 103-94 win over the Utah Jazz, the Sixers maintained an undefeated, 10-0 record at home, but they’ve been 5-6 away from the Wells Fargo Center. With the pair of off days, Brown said the team got in the mindset to even out that road record.
On Tuesday, he said, they had a team breakfast, a walk-through, and film sessions, before focusing on speed Wednesday.
“Today, we got up and out,” the coach said, “and tried to replicate some of the things that we think Washington is going to do to us defensively and run against ourselves.”
Joel Embiid didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice as part of his overall health plan, but the star center will be available for Thursday’s game.
Brown has talked about how the team’s style of play changes when Embiid is off the court and former Boston Celtic Al Horford is playing center. With Embiid on the floor, the Sixers are more of a half-court team. When just Horford is out there and Embiid is on the bench, they play faster.
“As I’ve said to everybody, I see when Joel’s not playing or sitting at practice, or I’ve taken him out of the game ... I think there’s a difference," Brown said. "There’s a pace factor that suited today’s practice.”
Which also suits the Wizards, a team that despite its losing record is ranked third in the NBA in points per game and first in assists per game as of Wednesday. Defensively, however, they rank dead last, allowing more than 122 points per game.
They’ve also struggled recently with injuries, including a stress reaction in center Thomas Bryant’s right foot that will sideline him for at least three weeks. To make matters worse, their two backup centers are also out with injuries and forward C.J. Miles had surgery on Wednesday for ligament damage on his right wrist.
But the Wizards have taken an unconventional approach all season, paying little attention to positions and still being productive offensively. Coach Scott Brooks told reporters the team plans to still play fast while making adjustments for injuries.
Up in Philadelphia, Brown said his definition of pace may be different than others given his players’ strengths, particularly Embiid’s ability to post up.
“My version of pace nowadays is after they double-team Joel at a post, now let’s talk about passing,” Brown said. “You know, bam, bam, bam ... Pace is to me lately: come out of the post. Once Joel passes, now what?"
The Sixers and Wizards tip off at 7 p.m. in Washington, then the Sixers return home to play the Cavaliers on Saturday.