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Searching for ninth straight win, Sixers travel to D.C. for duel with Wizards

Can Philadelphia keep the good vibes rolling in the nation’s capital?

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

For the first time in three tries this season, the 20-12 Philadelphia 76ers will face the 13-21 Washington Wizards with both Joel Embiid and James Harden at the helm. Embiid didn’t suit up for either night of the team’s two-game miniseries on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. But now, Embiid and Harden are in the lineup, aiming to give the Sixers their ninth consecutive victory. A win Tuesday would mark Philadelphia’s longest winning streak since the famed 16-game sprint to close 2017-18.

For the Sixers, only Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) is ruled out. He could be back for Friday’s contest against the New Orleans Pelicans. He also got up shots post-shootaround on Tuesday.

Deni Avdija (lower back soreness) is listed as questionable on the Wizards’ end. Everyone else is a go for these two clubs.

After scuffling through a 10-game losing streak for most of the month, which sent Washington from 11-10 to 11-20, the Wizards have won two of their past three. Nonetheless, they’re 22nd in net rating (minus-1.8), 17th in offensive rating (112.7) and 22nd in defensive rating (114.5). The Sixers, meanwhile, are fifth in net rating (plus-3.9), 14th in offensive rating (113.8) and fifth in defensive rating (109.9).

Washington is led by the trio of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. Porzingis’ threat as a floor-spacer could lure Embiid away from the hoop and the Sixers don’t have any secondary rim protection behind him, so it’ll be interesting to see how each side navigates this dynamic. Beal’s been a tremendous finisher this season, but the Wizards are 22nd in rim frequency. Porzingis loves to operate around the elbows and mid-post, so he’s by no means solely an outside presence. Embiid will be in or near the paint against the Latvian center.

This team targets the midrange, which should be available against the Sixers, who typically play drop coverage with Embiid (they’ll mix in shows for him and switching with the other four defenders). Philadelphia is 20th in opposing midrange rate. However, the Wizards’ aversion to the rim and arc (20th in three-point rate) consistently hamstrings their offensive ceiling on a nightly basis. They may enjoy success in the midrange, but it doesn’t necessarily spell massive trouble for the Sixers’ defense.

Averaging 25 points (57.6 percent true shooting), 7.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists over his past 17 games, Kuzma’s been on a tear the past five weeks. At 6-foot-9, his blend of mobility, ball-handling, size and shooting comfort pose issues for opponents and bestow him notable creation chops. I wonder how Philadelphia approaches defending him, given P.J. Tucker is only 6-foot-5. The 6-foot-7 Tobias Harris could make more sense, shifting Tucker to Avdija or Gafford instead. With Avdija sidelined for their last game, the Wizards opted for a jumbo-sized frontcourt, starting Gafford in his place. He’s much bigger than Tucker, but has some struggles playing through physicality, so the matchup could prove tenable for the Sixers.

Avdija’s status looms large for Washington. He’s by far its best option against Harden and he’s already showcased some impressive defensive possessions in their prior two meetings this season. Outside of Avdija, the Wizards are short on plus perimeter defenders, especially across the forward positions. Jordan Goodwin is the next best choice, but he’s 6-foot-3 and more of a passing lane and helpside menace than point-of-attack stopper. In their last game on Friday, Goodwin wasn’t part of the rotation either.

This should be a favorable matchup for Embiid. Neither Porzingis nor his backup, Daniel Gafford, has the brawn and/or discipline to effectively stymie him. In three games against Washington last season, the big fella averaged 31.7 points (61.9 percent true shooting), 11.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Although, Porzingis was not yet a member of the Wizards for any of those outings.

Even so, the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll, which has been crushing teams throughout this winning streak, should yield favorable looks. Washington is 28th in opposing midrange rate, a region Embiid prioritizes and is constantly handed quality looks from Harden out of ball-screens. The Wizards’ big man rotation is already in for a daunting assignment and whether Avdija plays will help determine how daunting it is.

A Sixers win would move them into fourth in the East, just a game back of the second-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. It’d also move them to an even 7-7 on the road this year. They’ll have a chance to accomplish both in a matter of hours.

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards

When: December 27, 7 p.m. EST

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.

Watch: NBC Sports Philly

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @LibertyBallers

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