Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks has had high praise for the 76ers all throughout what looks to be the shortest of playoff series. After Saturday’s 132-103 loss at Capital One Arena, which gave the Sixers a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, Brooks was effusive when talking about his opponent.
“They are a very talented, experienced team,” said Brooks, whose team will attempt to avert a sweep Monday in Washington. “They are championship-ready right now.”
Brooks then stopped himself in the middle of the next sentence.
“I don’t think they would surprise anybody if they ... ,” he said before changing direction. “We got one more crack at it, that is what I told the guys; we want to play better and give ourselves one more chance to play better. But yeah, they got a lot of talented players that really know how to play ...”
The series doesn’t need a lot of deep analysis. Sure, the Wizards haven’t shot well from three-point range the last two games and the Sixers have. The Wizards were 10-for-57 the past two games (17.5%) while the Sixers were 26-for-54 (48.1%).
Washington tried more one-on-one defense on Saturday against Joel Embiid and that didn’t work so well. Embiid scored a playoff career-high 36 points, all in the first three quarters.
When it comes down to it, the Sixers simply have more talent. It is no revelation, especially when talking about a No. 1 seed against a No. 8 seed.
One area that shows why there is such a discrepancy is the respective starting lineups.
The Sixers’ starters have outscored their Wizards counterparts, 276 to 215. That is a 61-point difference, an average of 20.3 per game.
Of course, it starts with Embiid.
He is averaging 29.3 points a game in the series and he hasn’t played in the fourth quarter the past two games because victory was already secured. In Game 1, his minutes were limited, too, by first-half foul trouble. Embiid has yet to play 30 minutes in any of the first three games.
“He is not like most bigs in the league; he puts the ball on the floor, plays like a guard, it’s kind of crazy,” said Bradley Beal, Washington’s three-time All-Star guard.
On Sunday, after his team’s film study, Brooks compared Embiid to one of the NBA all-time great centers.
“He is about as good as he can possibly be at that position,” Brooks said. “I was fortunate to play with [Hakeem] Olajuwon for almost three years. He’s doing things I haven’t seen since then. His seventh year [five in which he has played] in the league, he has been able to see it all, has seen all the defenses, all the schemes and he is a skilled, athletic, tough, high IQ basketball player. If you make a mistake, he capitalizes on you and his team does as well.”
Beal said that Embiid opens up space for everybody else on the court.
And everybody else has been taking advantage of the open looks.
On Saturday, the quality of the starting lineup really showed. The Sixers’ starters outscored the Wizards, 100-71. Each Sixers starter scored at least 14 points and they shot a combined 40-for-62 (64.5%), including 13-for-22 (59%) from three-point range.
Russell Westbrook, who played well on Saturday despite being questionable heading into the game with a sprained right ankle, tried not to go too much over the top in talking about the Sixers.
“They are a good team, they are the No. 1 team in the East for a reason, we’ve got to do a good job,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, for me, they put shorts on the same way we put ours on, they put on their jersey the same way we do, we’ve got to be tough, it is as simple as that, no matter who is in the lineup we have been playing.”
Yes, but they don’t play the same way, which has been evident this series.