The Sixers have now won four straight games to take them to 4-1 for the new season. Now that the James Harden trade is behind them, the vibes only seem to be improving. Nick Nurse is implementing some positive changes, returning players like Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris are thriving, and some of the team's new additions are already exceeding expectations.
Next, as the Sixers look to extend their win streak to five on Monday night, they'll be up against the 1-4 Wizards, who currently sit dead last in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers started slow in Saturday's 112-100 win against the short-handed Suns — much like their opponent. But in time they got going, and were in control enough in the second half to allow Joel Embiid to rest for the fourth quarter. Maxey scored 22 and tied his career-high of 10 assists, Tobias Harris had another efficient night with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds, and Kelly Oubre Jr. continued to impress with an efficient 25 points of his own.
In fact, the Sixers now have four players averaging 20+ points per game: Embiid (29.4), Maxey (26.2), Oubre (21.0) and Harris (20.0).
Ultimately, Philly’s key players are entering Monday’s game in impressive form.
Chris Haynes has also reported that Nicolas Batum is back in Philadelphia after dealing with a personal matter. Batum is now expected to be available to make his Sixers debut on Monday. We’ll have to wait and see if he does get many minutes, but Batum has the skillset to be an impactful two-way role player.
De'Anthony Melton's primary task (and one of the main focuses for the Sixers' defense in general) against Washington will be guarding Jordan Poole. Poole was the Wizards’ main acquisition this summer, and despite his cool first five games (17.6 points per game on only 41.8/30.3/75 shooting splits), he’s still a threat. He’s a solid driver, and can easily heat up off the dribble from deep if he’s given too much space.
Even with the addition of Poole, though, the Wizards are off to a slow start offensively, ranking just 20th in offensive rating so far. Which, combined with their 29th-ranked defense, has them at the bottom of the league in net rating at -10.1.
One of the other top matchups to watch in this one will be Kyle Kuzma and Harris. Harris has had an excellent start to the season, bringing consistent, aggressive scoring and strong defense. He’s already had a quality showing on defense against Pascal Siakam, and does have the size to match up fairly well with Kuzma, Washington’s leading scorer at 22.8 points a night.
Embiid, who’s started 2023-24 in fine form and looks great physically for the start of a season, has also had no trouble overpowering opposing starting center Daniel Gafford in the past.
.@JoelEmbiid on the @sixers' growing defense in their 4-1 start:— Lauren Rosen (@LaurenMRosen) November 5, 2023
"Defensively, I like where we're at. Everybody being on the same page, and playing with so much energy. I just want to be a great defensive team.
We're playing extremely fast. I really like the pace."
If Harris can keep Kuzma in check and Melton and the team's guards stop Poole from getting too comfortable, then the Sixers shouldn’t have much trouble handling the Wizards’ offense. With Embiid anchoring the paint as always and the team surrounding him with alert, active rotations on the perimeter, the team's defense has been improving under Nurse.
Something else to watch will be Maxey's aggressiveness. The recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week has been stellar to open this season, but him finding just the right balance of aggressive scoring and playmaking is still something he, Nurse and the team want to keep fine tuning. Few players can handle Maxey's speed and improving ability of being able to utilize changes of pace to throw off defenders.
While Tyus Jones can provide decent guard defense, hanging with Maxey’s shifty three-level scoring is a tall order for anyone right now. And the Wizards, currently allowing the seventh-highest opponent field goal percentage within five feet of the basket (68.2), don’t exactly have the best interior defense in place to slow down Maxey’s drives either.
"It was a couple times today that the right play was for me to shoot and I passed it, but you know, still trying to find that balance," Maxey said to reporters after the Sixers' win against Phoenix.
"My thing right now is I’m trying to pick my spots when to be ultra-aggressive and when to be able to get to the paint and get Joel shots, get Kelly shots, get Tobias, you know what I’m saying, get them in the right spots too, so I think I’m doing a solid job right now. I knew in the fourth quarter when they made a little run that it was time for me to be aggressive and score a ball and find ways to get downhill and get to my shot and that’s how it kind of went."
As long as the Sixers show up with solid effort on Monday, they should have a good chance to make it five wins in a row.
When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic