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Heading into their playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, reporters asked Wizards head coach Scott Brooks about how his team planned on combating the Sixers’ size. “It’s not how big you are. It’s how your heart ticks,” Brooks said. With the Wizards down, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series, Brooks’ response has left the team with more questions than answers. Washington may realize that they do not have the requisite heart or size to compete with a Sixers team that finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The 76ers’ starting point guard, Ben Simmons, is listed at 6-foot-11, which would make him the third tallest player on the Wizards’ entire roster. Philadelphia boasts a lineup where four of their five starters are at least 6-foot-6, while the Wizards play a three guard lineup featuring Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, and Raul Neto, who are all listed below 6-foot-3.
Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has fielded a group of players who fit certain skillsets of playing fast and having high basketball I.Q., while height has not been deemed as important to the team’s style of play.
The Wizards sorely miss Deni Avdija, who is listed at 6-foot-9 and had been playing the small forward position for the Wizards before fracturing his leg and being ruled out for the remainder of this season. While replacing Avdija in the starting lineup with Neto, who is generously listed at 6-foot-1, was good strategic move for the Wizards to close out the regular season because he is a proficient ball-handler who also shoots a respectable 39 percent from three-point range, he has been severely outmatched against the Sixers due to his lack of size and recent hamstring injury.
Brooks could look to replace Neto’s minutes this series by giving more playing time to Anthony Gill, Chandler Hutchison, or Isaac Bonga, who are all listed at 6-foot-8 and would give the Wizards a much better size advantage to slow down Sixers starting forward Tobias Harris, who scored 37 and 19 points in the first two games, respectively. Harris is a proven scorer in the league and at 6-foot-9, he has been able to get any shot he wants on the court with very little resistance from the Wizards.
There also seems to be confusion concerning the Wizards’ strategy of whether to double-team All-Star center Joel Embiid. The Wizards have tried to send two defenders toward Embiid whenever he catches the ball in the post, and he has been able to use his size and unique passing ability for a big man to see over the top of the defense and pass to open shooters on the perimeter. Philadelphia shot 9 of 22 from three-point range, which is good for 42 percent from beyond the arc and is a number that the Wizards will have to lower if they expect to get back into this series.
When it comes to the X’s and O’s strategy of the game plan, Brooks must be better at making adjustments to the things that Philadelphia is doing. The fifth-year Wizards coach will need to break his usual habits of forging ahead with the same game plan and get creative with a new way to not only slow down the Sixers’ star players, but to get the Wizards’ own role players more involved.
“They did what they were supposed to do. Took care of home court,” Westbrook said after Game 2. While the aftermath of that game has focused on the fan in Philadelphia who poured popcorn on Westbrook, the Wizards’ star point guard only scored 10 points on 2 of 10 shooting from the field in Game 2 after having 16 points on 17 shot attempts in Game 1 and has not looked like the player who went on a complete tear to close out the season and helped lead the Wizards to the playoffs. If the Wizards want to get back into this series, they will need a healthy Westbrook to resemble the player from the 17-6 stretch that closed the season as opposed to the guy in the first two games of the playoffs.
The Wizards could also use their third highest paid player to show up and contribute as well. Dāvis Bertāns, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract in free agency finished the game with zero points and fouled out in 24 minutes of game action, the first player to foul out without scoring in a playoff game in six years. Bertāns, who is the Wizards’ best shooter, is such a vital player in the team’s offensive success as his three-point shooting keeps defenses from clogging up the paint to stop Westbrook and Beal from driving to the basket. It will be imperative that the Wizards find a way to get the “Latvian Laser” more involved at home if they want to open up their offense.
The Wizards’ next opportunity to win a game in this series will be Saturday when they host the 76ers at Capital One Arena. Game 4, also at home, will be on Monday, May 31. The team announced this week that they were approved to sell 10,000 tickets for their home playoff games which would be almost double the 5,300 fans that they had in attendance for their home play-in tournament game. The Wizards need to come out with a sense of urgency if they want to continue playing in front of those fans this season and extend the series past this weekend.
Photo by All-Pro Reels on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.