Following last night’s 117-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown bemoaned the team’s lack of spirit:
“I feel like our competitive spirit has taken a dent because of our inability to score. I think that anytime that you get into a mood swing that affects your defense because your offense is doing something, it needs to be addressed.”
During this holiday season when spirit should be in abundance, zone defenses have given the Sixers a case of the Bah Humbug’s. Wednesday night, Miami sat back in a 2-3 zone and watched as the Sixers missed a bevy of open jumpers. Last night, Dallas utilized more of a matchup zone, but to similar effect.
The good news for Philadelphia is the team has a chance to immediately put this now-three-game losing streak in the past. The Sixers will get right back on the court in the second night of a back-to-back tonight against the Wizards. The bad news? Well, here’s a headline from a Washington Post article last month: “Why are the Wizards using zone defense more than any other team? ‘It works for us.’”
So Brett Brown’s club will have to find the key to unlocking the zone in a hurry. On paper, the Sixers shouldn’t have trouble scoring against Washington — the Wizards have a league-worst 116.0 defensive rating. However, it was just two weeks ago that the Sixers dropped a game in the nation’s capital, 119-113.
Concerningly, the Sixers have watched their opponents light it up from behind the arc this week, and Davis Bertans put on a fireworks display in that last meeting, hitting seven 3-pointers. Bertans has exploded this season for close to four made 3-pointers a game at a 44.7 percent clip. Philadelphia couldn’t stop Tim Hardaway Jr. from making seven 3s last night, despite that clearly being part of the game plan. They’ll need to execute better tonight against Bertans or suffer a similar fate.
Joel Embiid: "We're not following the game plan. Like, tonight, let's say, Tim Hardaway, we had him as a hot [shooter], so we've got to just do a better job of following the game plan. At the end of the day, I feel like it's not on the coaches. We've got to play with energy." pic.twitter.com/mAduOIU8Mn— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) December 21, 2019
Fresh off a 33-point outing against Dallas, you would expect Joel Embiid to have another big game. JoJo had a 26-point, 21-rebound performance last time against Washington, and the Wizards are severely depleted in the frontcourt, having recently gone without Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, and Moe Wagner. The Wizards are so thin on the pivot that Sixers legend Anzejs Pasecniks was signed to a two-way deal and has played legitimate rotation minutes the last two games. It would be sweet for Embiid to go out and symbolically crush the Bryan Colangelo era.
A loss tonight would mean a season-worst four-game losing skid, and a full-blown panic in the City of Brotherly Love. A win wouldn’t be a cure-all — it is the Wizards after all — but it would certainly help fans get into the holiday spirit.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Washington: Jordan McRae (out - finger); Rui Hachimura (out - groin); Moritz Wagner (questionable - ankle); Thomas Bryant (out - foot); C.J. Miles (out - wrist); John Wall (out- achilles)