The Philadelphia 76ers have been at home waiting for their first round opponent to emerge from the Play-In Tournament.
We now know it's the Washington Wizards, who stormed home over the last month of the regular season to enter postseason calculations.
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All times Eastern.
- Game 1 - Sunday, May 23, 1:00 p.m.
- Game 2 - Wednesday, May 26, 7:00 p.m.
- Game 3 - Saturday, May 29, TBD
- Game 4 - Monday, May 31, TBD
- Game 5 (if necessary) - Wednesday, June 2, TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - Friday, June 4, TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - Sunday, June 6, TBD
Result: 76ers won 3-0
Best game: Jan 6, 2021 - 76ers 141, Wizards 136
Best performance: Bradley Beal (Jan 6, 2021) - 60 points, seven rebounds, five assists, 20-for-35 FG
The Sixers swept the three games between the two teams during the regaular season, though two of those games were decidied by six points or less.
Predictably, the Wizards have had no answer for Joel Embiid in the meetings so far, with the MVP candidate averaging 30.0 points and 9.6 rebounds across those games despite only needing 30 minutes per game.
Their most recent clash came on March 23, with the Sixers blowing out the Wizards 127-101. On that night, Embiid racked up 23 points in just 20 minutes before perhaps the scariest moment of the Sixers season played out. Throwing down a huge dunk, Embiid landed awkwardly on his left knee, suffering bone bruising in what could have been oh so much worse.
Health wise, the stars have been mostly available, with only Ben Simmons missing the above final meeting between the two teams.
Key Storyline: Can Washington outgun the Philadelphia 76ers?
Washington gave up an average of 127 points to Philadelphia in the three meetings this season.
That number won't shock if you have watched Wizards basketball over the last two seasons, with Washington's 20th ranked defence somewhat of a surprise it is even that high. Scott Brooks' squad does deserve some credit for a remarkable turnaround in the regular season's final month, flipping a 17-32 record into a playoff campaign.
Part of the bounce back has been on the defensive end, with the team ranked 10th for defensive efficiency since the All-Star Break. Despite the turnaround, they still don't have a reliable option to defend Embiid, who has destroyed the entire league when healthy during the 2020-21 season.
With that in mind, the Wizards best chance of winning appears to lie on the opposite end of the floor, where the breakneck pace the team plays with could come to the fore.
In Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons, these squads possess two of the greatest transition threats in the league, with both capable of generating easy scoring opportunites for their teammates.
The matchup pits the No. 1 team vs. the No. 18 team for pace, with the Wizards averaging six more possessions per game than the Sixers. Allowing the game to enter a halfcourt battle will spell doom for Washington. Instead, they must play at a fast pace and hope they can simply outscore Philadelphia.
Get ready for a trackmeet.
Three Players to Watch
Bradley Beal: We already mentioned the 60-point outburst against the Sixers ealier this season, but their remains intrgue around the explosive scorer. The star guard will come into the season under 100 percent, with a hamsting injury bothering him in the lead up.
Beal managed to drop 25 points against Indiana in the final Play-In game, with 16 of those coming in the third quarter. Limited to just 28 minutes in that game, the Wizards will be hoping the low workload will leave him in a good place to make a significant impact in game one.
Ben Simmons: While the Sixers will be expected to win the series comfortably, their remains significant pressure on Simmons to perform under the bright lights of the postseason. Missing last season's loss in a sweep to Boston with injury, Simmons' ability to navigate opposition defences will be a key factor in how far the Sixers can go.
Matisse Thybulle: The second-year guard has made a splash this season, rocketing into All-Defensive calculations with his unique ability to rack up steals and blocks from the perimeter positions. With Beal and Westbrook on the opposition, Thybulle will likely be charged with the responsibility of guarding one of those when he is on the floor. If either one of Beal or Westbrook are limited in any fashion, it's hard to see the Wizards staying close.
Picks and predictions
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane) 76ers in five.
Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) 76ers in four.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694) 76ers in five.
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