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April 01, 2015

Wizards’ guards carve up Sixers' defense, 106-93

John Wall and Bradley Beal combine for 33 points and 20 assists in easy Washington victory

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The Sixers lost to the Washington Wizards 106-93 at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. Here’s what I saw:

The skinny

A little over a month after the Sixers fairly easily dispatched the Wizards on a Friday night in Philly, Washington’s counter punch was mighty impressive. Randy Wittman’s team is a big and physical group, and they imposed their will on the Sixers on both ends of the floor from the opening tip. To quote Cris Collinsworth, the Sixers lost this game at the point of attack. The Wizards were Jason Peters, and the Sixers were whatever poor sap is being blocked by Jason Peters. As Brett Brown told reporters afterwards, “We got jumped.”

The coach later added, “All of those things (youth, inexperience, road game) add up into a fistfight. You know, it’s a physical game. They ran us out of our stuff, they were great themselves trying to get offensive rebounds, they manhandled us on the boards, all those types of things.” That they did. The undermanned and youthful Sixers have done a decent job shedding that first label since starting the season with an 0-17 record by playing harder than their opponents, but they weren’t ready for a fight tonight. They got taken to the woodshed 2014-style.

Offensive observations

1. We’ll talk about the defense a little bit later, but Washington’s rotations were on point. They smothered any action the Sixers were trying to run for most of the game, and the visitors found themselves in scramble situations late in the shot clock because of it.

2. Zach Lowe summed up the Sixers’ offense well in his column today: They take a ton of 3s and shots at the rim but finish poorly from both places. Philly is a really good theoretical basketball team, without the talent to execute the theory.

Tonight was a pretty good example of the talent deficit, even if the Wizards were able to shoot a bunch of easy shots around the basket. Wittman has Washington taking enough long two-point jumpers to the point Doug Collins is even like, “Easy, fella.” They knocked down those jumpers tonight, while the Sixers struggled to both create and make the looks when they were on offense.

3. The two major bright spots on offense were the team’s two undersized guards, Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan. Smith (23 points, 11-17 shooting) was great in the pick-and-roll, using floaters and other tricky shots around the rim to score. Canaan (18 points, 7-12 shooting) was bombing away Canaanballs, specifically when he played together with Smith off the ball.

As far as scoring efficiency goes, I find that both players are deceiving in different ways when checking out the box score after the game. I look down at Smith’s line and typically say, “That’s worse that I thought.” With Canaan, it’s the opposite. I find myself wondering how he shot so well.

4. Canaan hurt his ankle late in the game. We don’t know the severity yet, but there’s this:

5. Nerlens Noel had a decent offensive game, scoring 14 points on 5-9 shooting. The rookie isn’t exactly Marshawn Lynch yet in terms of seeking contact on post moves, but he deals with it much better than earlier in the season.

6. The Sixers took enough terrible shots and had enough live ball turnovers in the first half to allow Washington to destroy them in transition. The Wizards were able to push ball down the floor and create so many mismatches against the Sixers’ scrambling defense.

Defensive deductions

1. However the Sixers decided to defend the pick-and-roll, Bradley Beal and John Wall absolutely carved them up. Hang back by the rim? The guard dribbled into an open midrange jumper. Hedge and recover? The guard drew both defenders and hit a wide-open screener for a jumper. Mess up the rotations on the backline? Easy layup for either the guard or the roll man.

It sort of felt like the Brendan Frasier movie “Bedazzled” (yes, I realize it’s a remake), which has a basic plot that goes like this: Man in love with woman, man sells his soul to the devil for seven wishes so woman can fall in love with him, man’s wishes never make the woman fall in love with him. Just like Frasier, the Sixers couldn’t win. In essence, Liz Hurley was running the point for Washington.

2. Whether it was Noel, Henry Sims, or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute fronting Marcin Gortat in the post, the Polish Hammer carved out great position and there was no help defense on the weak side. Not a great combo.

3. Brown was right about getting manhandled on the boards. The Wizards rebounded 9 of their 32 misses (28%). Gortat, who also shot 10-11 from the field, collected three of them. Here’s tonight’s $64,000 question: Does Gortat look like a wizard or a genie? I still can’t decide.

4. The Sixers made a decent run in the fourth quarter with Canaan, Smith, Noel, and Hollis Thompson in the game, cutting what had been a 31-point deficit down into the teens. As soon as Wall and Beal re-entered the game, it was back to 20 points almost immediately. Those two guys can really play.  


Very bad night for dunking, so let’s get this out of the way – OVERALL GRADE: F. There was one interesting play I want to talk about, though. First, look at this ridiculous move by Wall. The skill level at the point guard position in the NBA is through the roof right now:

But what you couldn’t see in that Vine is this, which might be considered revenge for the 2013 NBA Draft:

Stat stuff

Thomas Robinson minutes per game (in Philadelphia): 17.3

This is something I want to ask Brown about when the Sixers come back to town, as my whole Twitter feed wonders why Robinson doesn’t play more on a nightly basis. At first, the coach said that the 24-year-old forward needed to get in better shape, but it’s now past that point.

The argument for Robinson playing more is that he eats glass and his per-minute numbers are excellent (Per-36: 18.2 points and 15.6 boards). The argument against Robinson playing is that they have more money invested in Noel and Furkan Aldemir (who wasn’t good tonight), and Brown values Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s (who might’ve played his worst game of the year) steady veteran presence on the defensive end of the floor.

Or…. *whispers* maybe they want to resign Robinson at a reasonable price this summer and feel like they can hide him a little bit. I’m just thinking out loud.

Player of the game

In the 1980s, “Ishtar” was big-budget movie that eventually became a colossal failure both critically and at the box office. It provides quite a contrast from Ish Smith, a player that was acquired on the cheap but has pleasantly surprised in his short time as a Sixer. It’s not like Smith has provided the return of “Slumdog Millionaire” or “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but the producers made their money back on this one. Post-Trade Deadline Standings: Noel 10, Smith 6, Covington 5, Grant 3, Thompson 3, Robinson 3, LRMAM 1, Sampson 1, Richardson 1, and Canaan 1.

Pregame notes

In Monday’s game recap, I mentioned how Nerlens Noel’s positive comments about Ish Smith seemed like a not-so-subtle dig at former NBA and AAU teammate Michael Carter-Williams. Here was the quote again:

“I love that kid, man. He finds me whenever I’m open, and honestly he’s the first true point guard I’ve ever really played with. And he said I’m one of the [first true pick-and-dive] big men he’s played with so I think we complement each other so well.”

Noel has spent the last few days clarifying (or backtracking from, depending on your point of view) those comments. First, he took to Twitter:

Then at today’s shootaround, Noel told reporters that he wasn’t trying to disrespect his childhood buddy from back in Boston. From CSN’s Dei Lynam:

"I would never do that. He [Carter-Williams] is a playmaker. There are times when you need a scoring point guard, a guy who is going to get in the lane and create. That is the way the NBA is. When you are 6-foot-6, it is good that you utilize your length and ability to get to the basket. I would never take a shot at him.

Those two had an interesting dynamic when they were playing together, as Noel publicly expressed frustration about not getting the ball enough a few times, which naturally shines a light on the team’s point guard. They’re definitely still good friends (as evidenced here), so maybe frustration is how Noel communicates with Carter-Williams. Can you chalk up at least some of Noel’s improved play to Smith replacing MCW at the point, though? Uh huh.

What do you do with a day off in Washington D.C.? If you’re the Sixers, apparently you hit the White House up. Look at those kicks Embiid is rocking:

Tweet of the night

Don’t necessarily agree with Malik here, but I do respect his opinion a lot and obviously love his commentary. He watches a lot of basketball (a lot of Sixers basketball, especially) and played at such a high level that he could be able to see things I can’t. Someone brought up the theory that maybe the Sixers’ garbage time minutes could be inflating their defensive metrics. That’s an interesting thought, even though they’ve been decently competitive since the brutal start.

To me, the Sixers have passed the eye test since the New Year. The occasional road stinker is thrown in there, but I believe that number to be pretty legit. I also believe the abysmal offensive rating to be legit. It's definitely something a couple of reasonable people can have a conversation about, though.