The first-ever NBA Play-In tournament is a wrap, at least in the Eastern Conference that is. The first leg of the playoff journey is now set for the Sixers. On Tuesday, the 8th seed Washington Wizards got thumped by the 7th seed Boston Celtics 118-100, while the 9th seed Indiana Pacers thrashed the 10th seed Charlotte Hornets. There were no upsets and no close games on this side of the country’s Play-In. Those outcomes led to the Wiz hosting the Pacers this evening in a “winner makes the playoffs, while the loser is done for the year” March Madness-style single-game elimination contest. Philly awaited the winner.
The Wizards finished the season hot, winning 14 of 18 down the stretch before Bradley Beal pulled a hamstring. He returned to the lineup recently and moved well enough in this one and the game was over long before the final buzzer.
It’s hard to make sense of all of these blow-outs. Why would the Wizards struggle so mightily in Boston but then demolish a Pacers team (142-115) who was fresh off beating the Hornets by almost the exact same score (144-117)?
There always seems to be a bit of intensity and trash talk when Joel Embiid battles Russell Westbrook, doesn’t there?
“I don’t know why he was mad. He’s always in his feelings.”— Barstool Philly (@BarstoolPhilly) May 21, 2021
- Embiid on Westbrookpic.twitter.com/GZbbZp0nB6
Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid before tipoff pic.twitter.com/KGR4BDrqZ0— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) May 21, 2021
The Sixers opened the season back on December 23rd against the Wiz. They trailed by 13 at one point and were down by 10 headed into the 4th period but came back to win.
The Sixers took the second game of the series back in early January. And the most memorable of the three was back on March 12. The Sixers won that game handily, but Joel Embiid injured his knee while posterizing Garrison Mathews. It cost Joel a chunk of games (and likely) and an MVP award.
Philly swept Washington three games to none this season, although they never had to play the Wiz after the team from D.C. found a rhythm in April when they won 8 in a row and 10 of 11.
Washington on the year, per Cleaningtheglass.com had the 20th ranked offense, (111.6 points per 100 possessions) and the 18th ranked defense, (allowing 113.2 points per 100 possessions). The Sixers finished as the 13th overall offense (scoring 113.6 points per 100, a full 2 more points per game) and the 3rd overall defense, (allowing just 108.2 points per 100).
With Danny Green, a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate in Ben Simmons, and All-Defensive team candidates in Matisse Thybulle and Joel Embiid, it’s no secret where the Sixers’ strength lies.
Defense is really the Sixers’ calling card and since Bradley Beal is now dealing with a hamstring injury (although he played well on Thursday scoring 25 points on 9-17 from the field and 4-7 from downtown in just 28 minutes of the rout) the superstar backcourt the Wiz boast may not have the firepower they’re used to having:
Bradley Beal (hamstring) says he's less than 100% - how will that affect tonight's Wizards-Celtics play-in game? We break that down, as well as Pacers-Hornets: pic.twitter.com/LE3AzPtJUC— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) May 18, 2021
Russell Westbrook on the other hand has been on an absolute tear and averaged a triple-double for the 4th time of his career this season, his first with the Wizards.
Philadelphia has had struggles getting back on defense in transition, allowing the second-most transition points in the league (Houston finished last). So we can be sure they'll be prioritizing that with Westbrook coming to town since he loves to push the tempo.
The first game is like an Eagles game in that it starts on Sunday at 1:00 PM eastern. The Sixers will have had plenty of time to rest up and prep for the start of the playoffs. The road to the NBA finals in the East goes through South Philly, and the journey begins this weekend.