Coach's Corner: John Gabriel on Sixers-Wizards
By John Gabriel (As told to Andrew Pearson)

The Wizards visit the Sixers Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.


When you look at rivalries in the Eastern Conference, next to the Celtics and Sixers, the rivalry between Washington and Philadelphia ranks right up there in the history of the game. With around 25 games to go, it is not going to be any different this year with Philadelphia, Washington, Indiana, and Milwaukee, all bunched together in their fight for the final four playoff spots.

Washington's Gilbert Arenas is slowly climbing in the league scoring race.
Mitchell Layton/NBAE/Getty Images
Games such as Friday’s between Philly and Washington are absolutely crucial. Both teams come into the game with 29 wins – Philly having beaten Houston, 106-101, and Washington having lost to Indiana, 99-93, most recently – but the similarities don’t stop there. Both are scoring around an incredible 100 points per game and shooting nearly 45 percent from the field, while rebounding the basketball at about 41 a game as well.

The biggest difference that exists when you look at both of these clubs is that Eddie Jordan's Wizards open things up and have attempted over 230 more three-pointers than the Sixers.


Washington is going to do everything it can to get Philadelphia back on its heels in transition defense, which the Sixers aren’t great at, particularly if Samuel Dalembert isn’t on the floor. They utilize a little bit more of a motion offense, mixed in with the transition game, than Philadelphia. That will give the Wizards a good chance to get open looks for all the additional threes that they want to take during the course of the game. They’ve got the perfect trio in Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, to lead them in that offensive charge.

If they can keep the pressure on Philadelphia, fatigue will factor in as well. Maurice Cheeks likes to play five guys a bulk of the minutes for Philadelphia. Right now he has five players playing over 30 minutes per game, led by Iverson at 43.5 per game. Washington has a bit of a different approach when it comes to its rotation, which Eddie Jordan likes to go seven deep with.

Philadelphia, with Chris Webberand Allen Iverson, are going to try and play a two-man game, hoping to pull Washington’s bigs, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas, away from the basket and out on the perimeter. That could be problematic for Washington. Next to Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, they are probably as good a big-small combination as exists in the Eastern Conference. What will be key for Washington is to put a lot of pressure on Iverson to try and keep the ball out of Webber’s hands, who is arguably one of the best big men at handling the ball in the Eastern Conference.

Defensively, Jamison could present match-up problems for the Sixers because of his ability to stretch a defense with his three-point shooting (42.9 percent) as well as his ability to attack down low. Philadelphia will want to try and keep Dalembert as close to the rim as they can, so he will most likely not be guarding Jamison. I can see Andre Iguodala doing a good job there. He is a superb athlete with long arms and is becoming a better and better defender. Although he doesn’t shoot the ball as well as they want on a night in and night out basis, he is strong on the defensive end.


Will Philadelphia be able to keep Dalembert on the court? He is really the only guy they count on to defend the basket and rebound the ball. Right now he is averaging over four fouls per game and has had problems staying on the floor. If they can keep him out there and take the pressure off Webber, that will allow Iverson to do what he needs to do and not expend all his energy on the defensive end.

There is no doubt that both Iverson and Arenas are going to get theirs in this game. There is no stopping them. What this could come down to are the second and third line scorers on both teams – Andre Iguodala and John Salmons for the Sixers and Butler and Jarvis Hayes for the Wizards.


There is a very good chance, though their styles are different, that it is going to come down to a potential last shot. Both teams have players that can put up points in bundles. As a result, we’re not going to see a great defensive performance out of either club. Whoever gets the most out of its star players at the end should pull it out.

-- John Gabriel appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association.