The Sixers (31-19) hosted the Washington Wizards (23-27) on Wednesday night. Philadelphia intended to push its winning streak to 6 games. Washington hoped to snap a 6-game losing streak. After clawing for their best win of the season on Monday, the Sixers coughed one up to the Beal-less Wizards, 106-103.

Before we get to what I saw, I owe you some context.

Contextual Notes

The Wizards were without Bradley Beal, who is nursing a sprained left wrist. Thomas Bryant was also out with a sprained right ankle. 

Isaiah Todd and Two-Way contractors Cassius Winston and Joel Ayayi were on assignments with Washington’s G-League affiliate.

Wes Unseld Jr started Aaron Holiday, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Daniel Gafford.

The Sixers were without Seth Curry, who is managing back spasms.

Furkan Korkmaz was out with a sore left knee, while Shake Milton was out as he continues to nurse a back contusion.

Paul Reed and Jaden Springer were on G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable.

Ben Simmons is not mentally ready to play and was out.

Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

First Quarter

If I’ve written about it once, I’ve written about it dozens of times. It is jarring that Tobias Harris has been in the NBA for 10 years and still hasn’t tightened his grip on the ball when he drives to the rim. More often than not, Harris gets stripped on the way to the cup and loses the ball out of bounds or gives it up on a live-ball turnover. It simply hasn’t gotten any better.

Embiid has been an excellent rim-protector all season long, and he’s more than made up for shortcomings with his meaningful improvement as a passer and regular domination as a scorer. But, his weak-side help on penetration originating from the top of the key has been noticeably late at times.

I understand you don’t want to neglect the big plunging to the dunker’s spot. But, it’s the big’s responsibility to dance on the line of disturbing drivers and keeping the lurking big at bay. Embiid has walked that line well in other spots as a defender. But, not so much when it comes to thwarting straight-line drives.

It was quite encouraging to see Embiid begin his push up the court after a Washington miss, only to spot Maxey pushing the pace and rifle the ball ahead to his younger teammate. That doesn’t really have any meaning on a possession-to-possession basis. But, it speaks more to Embiid’s growing trust for his teammate to commandeer the offense and diversify the focal point on occasion.

As he’s been more empowered to bring the ball up, himself, Embiid has improved his speed as a full-court ball-handler. But Maxey is, of course, way quicker. His minute size relative to Embiid makes it much easier for him to navigate tight spaces in transition, too.

Can we please get rid of the fan cam segment of the during-timeout entertainment on jumbotrons? The people on the spotlight rarely pay attention to it. Why not just do more of those mini-clips of players trying to name different things against a timer? At least that’s entertaining.

Second Quarter

Matisse Thybulle’s recovery time was absolutely absurd in the second frame. There was a shot from Spencer Dinwiddie in which he got Thybulle up in the air to contest, stepped through to get a golden look at the rim, only for Thybulle to recover and block the shot. This was within the span of a few milliseconds. Thybulle hadn’t even landed from biting the fake and he still blocked the shot.

There was another play which, quite frankly, has become typical of Thybulle. Aaron Holiday thought he had enough room to let a deep triple go, only for Thybulle to recover to his hip and get a hand on the ball. His ability to do that — cover wide distances after gambling — is freakish. No one in the league can do that like he can. He does it so frequently that it’s almost certainly on the scouting report. That, of course, begs the question of do opponents actually pay attention to the scouting report?

When he starts out slow, you can essentially pinpoint Embiid’s awakening to a difficulty finish through a foul. He always falls to the ground in a heap, and then pops right up once he gets his bearings. From that respective play in this game onward, Embiid had 9 points in the second quarter. He contributed just 2 in the first quarter.

Maxey’s growth as a three-point shooter has not just been a pleasant surprise, it’s been incredible. He’s now 2-tenths of a percent behind Seth Curry in three-point percentage, and he’s 6th on the team in game-to-game three-point volume. Let’s be clear — that volume is nothing to write home about. But, the efficiency is quite impressive. He’s basically seen a 10-percent improvement over his rookie campaign. It’s not like he’s taking easy threes, either. Maxey has begun to dabble in contested, side-step threes. He knocked down a couple of them on Wednesday.

The one growing concern you can credibly have about Maxey is his defense against playoff teams. Washington was running a lot of small-small or small-wing pick-and-rolls to get Maxey switched onto bigger matchups. And from there, the Wizards went to work. This isn’t some game-changing strategic adjustment by Wes Unseld Jr, either. The Grizzlies bullied Maxey a bit doing that on Monday. And the reality is that there may not be an answer. He can’t make himself grow. The only thing he can really do is stay in his opponent’s air space and hope the help is there if he gets beat to a spot.

Third Quarter

You can really feel Maxey’s comfort playing off the ball next to Embiid starting to grow. He’s spacing himself out to the perimeter in more effective ways, and he’s diversified his scoring game enough where he’s effective at a number of things.

I don’t think you’re ever going to change the nature of his game — he’s always going to feel most comfortable putting the ball on the floor than letting an analytically significant volume of threes fly off the catch. The important thing is that Maxey has an instinct when he plays off the ball.

After Embiid threw a shot fake, he sprayed the ball to Maxey, whose defender had stepped too far away to cut off Embiid’s driving angle. Maxey intuitively unleashed a shot fake of his own, got the recovering defender off balance, and attacked the cup for a layup. That instinct really opens up the floor when the defense is spread out. 

Speaking of improved processing speed, Matisse Thybulle has done a much better job of quickly rifling passes when Embiid seals off a post-up on the strong side of the floor. Just a few months ago, it was a pass fake, a jab step, or a hesitant three.

Now, he’s catching it in the corner and immediately looking in for Embiid to open up. And he did that against the Wizards in the third frame, catching in the corner with Washington ever so slightly out of position and firing the ball into a flashing Embiid. That speed is especially helpful given how quickly defenses will resort to fronting Embiid on post-ups.

I feel like I chronicle the Andre Drummond experience on a nightly basis. But, it’s truly a rollercoaster. One night, he gets you 16 points, 23 boards, and 5 assists. Then against the Wizards, he commits a silly hip-check foul hard-hedging a pick-and-roll and follows that with a blatant defensive basket interference. That, of course, comes in addition to the missed layups.

Fourth Quarter

As bad a game as Georges Niang had, he was dynamite for the Sixers in the fourth frame. He scored 9 points in the final frame after having just 3 through the first three quarters of the game. 

But even with that, Niang was over-exposed in the final quarter. Doc Rivers made a pair of decisions that were questionable at best. First, he let the second unit run way too long. It was clear they had no spark to open the fourth quarter, and the defense was equally uninspiring. Still, Rivers gambled on the prayer that that unit could figure something out, and it just wasn’t going to happen. 

But instead of letting that uint marinate, you might as well bring Embiid back earlier. It’s not like load management is even a thing anymore. Embiid has played something like 30 out of 32 games. There’s no minute management to be done. So, you might as well squeak out a victory if the other option isn’t going to yield any long-term outcome. 

Beyond that, Rivers left Georges Niang in way too long. Perhaps you’re short a rotation spot with Korkmaz and Curry both out. But, you’re asking for trouble when you play both Harris and Niang with Embiid because one of your two slow-footed stretch-fours is relegated to small forward. The problem, of course, is that they cannot hang with small forwards. So, the Wizards targeted Niang in crunch time.

The Sixers could’ve really used a 5-0 homestand before going to Dallas and Chicago and then hosting Phoenix. They’ll have to settle for 4-1.

The Sixers (31-20) will visit the Dallas Mavericks (29-22) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 10 PM EST. You can catch the action on ESPN.