Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook have been the Wizards’ backcourt tandem for only six months, yet they became one of the league’s most explosive duos in that short time.
Beal is a near automatic bucket, while Westbrook is a triple-double waiting to happen.
Containing the two will be a priority for the 76ers when the teams’ first-round playoff matchup begins Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.
“One’s [a former] MVP, and one’s [one of the] best scorers we’ve seen in Beal,” Ben Simmons said after practice Friday. “So it’s going to be a tough matchup and a tough challenge for me and the other guards guarding those guys.
“But we are here for a reason and we are looking forward to the matchup. A lot of respect to that team.”
The Wizards earned the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed and a right to face the top-seeded Sixers by routing Indiana, 142-115, Thursday in a play-in game.
Beal finished with a game-high 25 points, while Westbrook added 18 points, a game-high 15 assists, and eight rebounds.
The Wizards acquired Westbrook from the Houston Rockets in a trade for John Wall on Dec. 2. The 2017 league MVP went on to average 22.2 points, 11.7 assists, and 11.5 rebounds in the regular season, marking the fourth time he averaged a triple-double in five years.
The nine-time All-Star also surpassed Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson’s longstanding NBA record of career triple-doubles (182) with 184.
Beal finished second in the league in scoring with 31.3 points per game. The three-time All-Star shooting guard scored a career-high 60 points in a 141-136 loss to the Sixers on Jan. 6. He averaged 36.7 points in Washington’s three losses to the Sixers this season.
Westbrook and Beal thrive in transition. Sixers coach Doc Rivers expects the Wizards to play that way, so they will look to limit those opportunities.
“In one hand you have Russ pushing the ball up the floor, putting a ton of pressure [on defenders], trying to be the most physical guard in the series,” Rivers said. “Then you got Bradley, he’s a flame thrower. So you have to deal with both. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.”
The Sixers will try to take away Westbrook’s drives and assist opportunities as much as possible.
The Wizards, however, must find a way to contain Joel Embiid. The Sixers center averaged 30.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in the teams’ three regular-season meetings. He made 5 of 6 three-pointers and shot 60.4% overall from the field.
Smith remembers the Process
Wizards reserve point guard Ish Smith knows how far the Sixers have come over the last seven seasons.
Smith had two stints with the team during its rebuilding process. He played 25 games with the Sixers during the 2014-15 season, then played for Washington and New Orleans the following year before being reacquired in a late December trade. Smith went on to start 50 games for the 2015-16 Sixers, who finished 10-72.
“I was there when we were trusting the process,” said Smith, who was a fan favorite in Philly. “As you know, they came a long way and I am happy for the organization, happy for the guys, I think Jo may be the only one still there. ... They are playing great basketball, playing really good basketball, No. 1 in the East.”
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Smith said the Sixers have loyal fans and want a winning team.
“They can be harsh on you, but at the same time, they love you. ... So they will bring energy no matter whether it is 5,000, 10,000 fans in there, it will feel like a packed house in there.”
Smith realizes playing in the Wells Fargo Center will be tough for the Wizards. The Sixers had the Eastern Conference’s best home record (29-7) this season.
“The fans are great there,” Smith said. “I have nothing bad to say about them.”