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Skidding Wizards pounded by 76ers, drop third straight

Philadelphia's Joel Embiid works to put up a shot through the defense of Kyle Kuzma (33), Delon Wright (55) and Deni Avdija during Sunday night's 112-93 Wizards' loss in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)
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PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Wizards found themselves in dangerous territory entering Sunday’s game at Wells Fargo Center. They had finally slipped below play-in tournament contention after a shaky stretch and were visiting a red-hot Philadelphia 76ers team with an MVP candidate still building his case for the honor.

The Wizards’ 112-93 loss, their third straight and fifth in six games, left them sitting in the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference at 31-37. The Wizards had no answer for Joel Embiid, the mighty 7-footer who added to his MVP case with 34 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocks — in three quarters. Embiid has yet to score fewer than 30 points in a game this month and he set the tone defensively in what was a poor shooting night for the Wizards.

For the first time in a week, the Wizards’ hunger for a win didn’t matter as much as their talent, and they simply couldn’t match Philadelphia (45-22).

Buckner: Wizards keep blowing leads — and chance to make progress

Poor offense was the main culprit. Washington shot 40.5 percent from the field, and Bradley Beal (13 points) was the high scorer among the Wizards’ core trio.

“A lot of those situations we just couldn’t get in an offensive rhythm. We couldn’t capitalize,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “To their credit, they’re a good defensive team. But we had allowed them to defend us that way, by not finding action, not moving the ball and just settling in and stagnating.”

Embiid filled the stat sheet on offense. On defense, he was often part of a double-team on Beal, forcing the guard into limp, midrange shots. Washington shot 6 for 26 from the three-point line and never gained control after the 76ers racked up a 14-point lead in the first nine minutes.

The team behind the team keeps the Wizards happy and safe

“He’s a willing defender,” Beal said of Embiid. “That’s half the job, [and with his] size and his ability to alter shots and be able to control the boards and rebounds, it makes it tough. He’s switching up his pick-and-roll coverage, I know on me he was more up and aggressive at times. … He does a really good job of mixing it up and making us think.”

Kyle Kuzma had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Kristaps Porzingis added nine points. Unseld yanked his starters with 7:15 to play.

With their main trio struggling, the Wizards depended on Corey Kispert to fill out the offense. Kispert matched his career high with 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including three three-pointers. The second-year guard has been playing well of late but appeared conflicted about his best night in a good stretch, given the team’s difficulties.

“It’s mixed feelings, right? You play really well personally, but as a team I thought we really struggled. So it’s hard to digest,” Kispert said. “You feel great immediately, but you can’t be too high or too low. You’ve got to look at it realistically. We weren’t ready to play today. We were flat [throughout the roster]. But shots ended up falling down for me personally. Little bit of a two-sided thing.”

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Eastern Conference positioning

The Wizards now sit behind the 11th-place Pacers (31-37) and 10th-place Chicago Bulls (31-36) in the East. They own a 1-2 record against Indiana.

“We’re not looking around needing help from any other teams across the league,” Kispert said. “If we win games, we’re in, and if we lose games, we’re out. It’s really that simple. Every day when we come to the gym from now until the end of the season, whenever that is, we’ve got to be fighting and clawing for everything.”

Gibson checks out

Taj Gibson checked out of the game in the third quarter with a non-covid illness after playing six minutes, looking visibly ill afterward in the locker room.

Kuzma also checked out with 8:54 left in the third quarter after running into the stanchion and hearing what he described as a “pop” feeling in his lungs. The forward said it was a scary moment. He was able to return to the game a few minutes later.

Porzingis falters

Porzingis’s nine points were his second-lowest scoring game of the season after he scored just seven points in a Dec. 23 game against Sacramento.