The Sixers certainly haven’t had the smoothest start to the new season. Joel Embiid has been struggling to get back to his usual self after dealing with injury this summer, the team’s offense hasn’t been as sharp and creative as you’d hope for from a group with so much talent, and frequent communication breakdowns and transition lapses have hurt the defense.
However, the Sixers have managed to win two games in a row, and will have a chance to extend their winning streak to three as they finish up their road trip on Monday against the 3-2 Wizards.
One concern for the Sixers entering this matchup is that Embiid has been listed as questionable with a non-COVID related illness. He tallied 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting as he returned against the Bulls on Saturday, hitting a huge late three while upping his defense to help seal the game.
If Embiid is out on Monday, the Wizards will have a fair size advantage with Kristaps Porzingis and their starting duo of 6-foot-9 forwards in Kyle Kuzma and Deni Avdija, plus Daniel Gafford off the bench. Paul Reed may be needed to help add a touch of size and range to the Sixers’ defense and work on the boards, rather than relying too heavily on downsizing with P.J. Tucker or even five-out stretches with Georges Niang at center. Fortunately for the Sixers at least, the Wizards aren’t a strong offensive rebounding team and Porzingis has never excelled at punishing small mismatches — he’s often relied on tough jumpers and face-ups, rather than using strength and size to create easier shots near the basket against smaller defenders. If the Sixers can keep physical with Tucker and Reed, and execute timely switches, that will be a big help in this matchup.
As always, Bradley Beal is the top assignment for the Sixers to worry about. De’Anthony Melton should have plenty of opportunity to guard Beal, and should probably return to the starting lineup if Embiid is out again, as he did against Toronto.
From there, Kuzma will be the main test for the Sixers’ forwards defensively. He’s continuing another strong season with Washington, averaging a career-high 20.4 points (second on the team, just behind Beal’s 22.6) with a 56.7 true shooting percentage. Staying physical against the Wizards’ big drivers will be key, as will contesting their frequent mid-range attempts. And while the Wizards haven’t been generating too many easy points in transition yet this season (they rank 22nd in fast-break points per game), the Sixers’ useless transition defense could easily give them the opportunity to do so if they don’t lock in.
James Harden has mostly been terrific to start this season, displaying more burst getting downhill with a new offensive approach to use more mid-range attempts to diversify his scoring. He is coming off a 2-of-13 shooting performance against the Bulls, though. He’ll have solid matchups to attack against the Wizards’ backcourt of Beal and the 6-foot-2 Monte Morris, and it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back and fares driving downhill against the Wizards’ rangier forwards like Kuzma and Avdija.
Tyrese Maxey is in sensational form, too, averaging a career-high 22.6 points with 50.4/46.8/75.9 shooting splits and only a few days removed from his incredible 44-point display to beat Toronto. He’s continuing to thrive as both an off-ball threat and lead creator when he’s given the touches to take over, and gunning from three at an even greater level than last season (taking 6.7 per game while burning teams off the dribble from range). If he can keep firing on all cylinders, be trusted to lead the offense for sizeable stretches if Embiid is out, and the team can put together a more respectable defensive showing, maybe they can start building a win streak.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards
When: 7:00 pm ET, Monday, October 31
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic