The Sixers (25-17) visited the Washington Wizards (22-21) for an MLK Day matinee. Philly wanted to push its winning streak to three games. Washington wanted to right its wrongs from a loss to the Trail Blazers on Saturday. The Sixers never looked like they cared and, as such, rolled over in a 117-98 defeat.
Before we get to what I saw, some context is due.
The Sixers were without the services of Matisse Thybulle, who is nursing a sprained right shoulder, again. On Sunday, a team official informed reporters that Thybulle will be re-evaluated in approximately one week.
Danny Green (right hip pain) and Shake Milton (back contusion) remained out for Philly.
Jaden Springer is on a G-League assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats and was not with the Sixers.
Ben Simmons is not mentally ready to play and remained out.
Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
Isaiah Todd, as well as Cassius Winston and Joel Ayayi (Two-Ways), was on assignment with the Wizards’ G-League affiliate and was not with the team.
Bradley Beal made his return from the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol and started.
Washington head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was in the protocol and did not coach. Assistant Joseph Blair was elevated to head coach for the game.
Blair started Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Daniel Gafford.
If you found yourself lethargic as you woke up from an early afternoon nap, you, too, might be a 76er. Philly’s defense was putrid through the first 3 minutes of play. The Sixers’ defense is usually only as good as Embiid’s protection is on any given day. On the first handful of possessions, Embiid surrendered three finishes at the rim. The first was a lob to Daniel Gafford, who bolted behind Embiid on a backdoor cut after the big fella inexplicably played up on him beyond the arc instead of dropping to a help position. The second was poor pick-and-roll communication with Tyrese Maxey that yielded Bradley Beal a short floater at the rim. The third was a line-drive from Kyle Kuzma.
Embiid made up for the lack of engagement on defense by picking on Washington’s bigs. He drew three fouls on Gafford in the first 6 minutes of play. Then, he quickly baited Thomas Bryant into one. Embiid got to the line for 8 freebies in the first frame. As much as his foul-drawing process is based in capitalizing on hands protruding in his air space with rip-throughs as he rises into jumpers, Embiid’s footwork gets bigs in the air around the rim. All he has to do is make sure they land on him as he goes up and it’s two at the charity stripe, if not an and-1.
While he kept the Sixers in it by eating the Wizards alive on post-ups, face-ups, and free throws, you could sense a bit of moodiness rom the big fella early in the game. Perhaps it was the unusual afternoon start. After all, athletes are creatures of habit. But, that’s not an excuse. Embiid was stomping his feet and gesturing at officials when they didn’t give him beneficial whistles. It’s hard to get back on defense when you’re stomping your feet. There was also a play in which Charlie Brown Jr committed a live-ball turnover on a bad pass. Instead of recovering to deter the shot at the basket, Embiid just slumped his shoulders and conceded the layup despite having the physical capacity to get back and affect the shot.
On one hand, you must be pretty damn good if you’re baseline level of play is forcing 4 fouls on the opposition in less than one quarter en route to a physically dominant offensive quarter. On the other hand, the body language towards teammates is perhaps an indicator that Embiid’s comments on Friday regarding his satisfaction with the current roster were just lip service.
Embiid was just trying to make a professional contest at the rim on a Kyle Kuzma dunk, but the forward got the better of him with an authoritative flush on the big fella’s head. On one hand, helluva poster. On the other hand, you respect a big man who will risk being on the poster for the sake of trying to make winning plays. Sometimes you just have to risk being the victim of a Kodak moment for the sake of denying the bucket. If it works out in your favor, you have a poster of your own, by the way. But if the dunker gets the better of an elite rim-protector, it makes the highlight reel because David essentially beat Goliath. That’s part of why there aren’t a surplus of elite defensive bigs — some guys don’t want to be on posters.
By the way, Tobias Harris deserves some of the blame for standing on the side of Kuzma’s runway instead of making a help rotation to cut off his drive.
Tyrese Maxey has really grown as a finisher. I’ve written this before, but he’s gotten much better at sneaking the ball past closing defenders at the rim. Very early in the season, Maxey left the ball exposed as he rose for finishes and was often left rejected by defenders. As the season has gone on, he’s become quite adept at darting to the angle he wants and laying a tight kiss off the glass so that defenders are either goaltending or fouling if they alter the shot at all. He kept the Sixers breathing with a few buckets around the cup in the second frame.
Everyone wants Seth Curry letting it rip from deep as often as possible. Analytically speaking, sure. But his proficiency as a midrange shooter is under-valued. He’s virtually automatic:
Seth Curry is shooting 57% on midrange jumpers this season, which ranks in the 97th percentile.— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) January 17, 2022
If you limit the sample size to min 100 such shots attempted, only 2 players in the whole NBA have been better — Darius Garland and Chris Paul.
Perhaps the most impressive part is that the vast majority of his midrange jumpers come off the dribble, specifically as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. If he wants to rip a midranger, there should be no qualms as long as he’s not passing up open threes.
Embiid was whistled for an offensive foul because he bent over as Beal attempted to fight through a screen. And then when Embiid and Rivers voiced extremely valid complaints about the call, the officials issued a technical foul to silence the criticism. That is amongst the softest tendencies that officials express on a day-to-day basis. “I don’t care if my call stunk, I don’t want to be criticized. Be quiet.” This all boils down to a lack of accountability for poor performance by professional referees. They consistently make erroneous calls, and they never get punished. As a result, it never gets better.
That wasn’t even the worst call against the Sixers in the first three quarters of play. Korkmaz got hit for an offensive foul because a Wizard’s face was in the flight path of his elbow as he made a move towards the basket for a score. It wasn’t as if Korkmaz went out of his way to issue the elbow. He had to make a move within his own airspace to get a shot off given the angle at which he was driving to the rim. The Wizard happened to be in his path. If the rule is that you can’t make contact with a defender’s head, then it was a good call. But, that’s not the rule.
Speaking of Korkmaz, if your options are passing to him for a three or taking the shot, yourself, you should take the shot yourself.
It was quite the stinker for Tobias Harris, who fouled out with 7 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Harris dropped in all 3 field goals before halftime. His great games have been few and far between this season. But, this goes up there with his worst performances of the season.
The Sixers (25-18) will host the Orlando Magic (8-36) on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.