Preview: Wizards open first round series Sunday in Philadelphia
On Sunday at 1:00 P.M. in Philadelphia, the Wizards take on the Sixers in Game 1 of the teams’ best-of-seven series in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Washington is coming off a Play-In Tournament win over Indiana on Thursday while Philadelphia will be playing on a week’s rest after wrapping up their regular season on May 16.
Wells Fargo Center | 1:00 P.M. | TNT & NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Raul Neto, G – Bradley Beal, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Alex Len
Sixers: G – Ben Simmons, G – Seth Curry, G – Danny Green, F – Tobias Harris, C – Joel Embiid
Wizards: Deni Avdija (right ankle fracture – out), Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out)
Wizards’ roster balanced with playoff vets and newcomers
Sunday’s series opener will be the first postseason experience for a number of the Wizards’ key contributors. Daniel Gafford, Rui Hachimura, Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga, Chandler Hutchison, Anthony Gill, Alex Len, and Cassius Winston will all be making their playoff debuts. Len, playing for his fifth team in his eighth season, had been the longest-tenured player without a postseason appearance. In an appearance on the Wizards Podcast Network’s Off the Bench Podcast on Friday, Len opened up about what it means to him to finally play beyond the regular season.
“It felt amazing,” Len said of the Wizards clinching a playoff berth. “That’s what I was thinking this whole year…I just wanted to play for something. I’d been in the league for seven years and it was getting old. I go to Toronto, I get cut, I sign here and we climb all the way back. After all this and we still making the playoffs, it just feels extra good.”
Russell Westbrook leads the Wizards with 106 career postseason games played, almost as many as the rest of the roster combined (130). Bradley Beal (40), Robin Lopez (31), Davis Bertans (23), Raul Neto (22) and Ish Smith (14) round out the rest of the Wizards with postseason experience.
Wizards taking advantage of extra days between games
Heading into their first round series against the Sixers, the Wizards have enjoyed some additional rest and practice time compared to the densely packed grind of the regular season. Washington got two days off between their Play-In win over Indiana and Sunday’s series opener, a scheduling luxury the team had enjoyed only once since the All-Star break. In addition to the two days off between the Play-In and Game 1, there will be two days off between Games 1-2 and 2-3. The additional rest time will provide a much-needed recuperation window for Bradley Beal, who is dealing with a nagging left hamstring strain, and allow the Wizards to expand their practice and preparation plans.
“We went over our game plan, film session, a walk-through of the offensive script, some shots,” Brooks said after Saturday’s practice session. “I like the focus that we had. We got a lot of things accomplished today. It was a good day. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to jump on a plane and get to Philadelphia and play the way we’ve been playing.”
Centers must be physical, disciplined in defending Embiid
The Wizards’ primary objective all series long will be slowing down Sixers center Joel Embiid, who averaged 30.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in three matchups against Washington this season. Len said that success against Embiid won’t necessarily mean stopping him or holding him to a certain number of points. Instead, Washington must make his life difficult and force him into inefficient shooting performances and turnovers. While the Wizards can lean on the fact that they run a three-center rotation with Len, Daniel Gafford and Robin Lopez each boasting different skillsets, simply running through their 18 allotted fouls is no recipe for success against Embiid.
“Fouling Embiid is a mistake,” Brooks said. “You don’t want to defend him and foul…He’s a great free throw shooter…Not only does it put him on the line, but it prevents us from getting out in transition and it helps them set their defense up. We don’t want to foul. We want to play physical without fouling.”
“(Guarding Embiid) is a great challenge for me and any other big on this team,” Gafford said. “We’ve got to match his physicality, that’s the main thing. He’s going to talk a lot of trash, for sure, but Joel Embiid is one of the best bigs in this league and we can’t just come out and think he’s just going to take it easy on us. He wants to win too. So we’ve got to match his physicality – that’s the main thing. We’ve got to play at the same level he’s playing (at) no matter what happens, no matter what goes on in the game, no matter what the refs do…We just have to come out and play – because he’s going to come out and play from the start to the finish of the game.”