Instead of stumbling against one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, Washington hurdled its first challenge and breezed by the Sixers for a 109-94 victory.
“I don’t personally look at things like that because it’s added pressure,” Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said of the team’s difficult schedule. “We just got to continue to come out and play good basketball every night so we can get to where we want to get to at the end of the season.”
In front of a mixed crowd at Capital One Arena, Washington (35-25) masterfully executed its offense, shooting 54.4 percent for the game and building a 23-point lead late in the third quarter. While Philadelphia (32-26) couldn’t consistently hit from beyond the arc until the fourth, Washington built and preserved its advantage by swishing jumpers from around and beyond the perimeter, shooting 12 for 25 from three-point range.
When the 76ers moved to within 97-89 with less than six minutes to play, Bradley Beal connected on a crucial three-pointer. Later, Beal unleashed a devastating step-back jumper against center Sixers Joel Embiid and punctuated the play over the screams of the Wizards faithful by turning and swatting Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown on his backside. Beal finished with a balanced stat line of 24 points (9 for 14 overall, 3 for 5 from beyond the arc), five rebounds and eight assists, although he was sloppy in creating seven turnovers.
“I think I had way too many turnovers tonight, so I just got off the ball,” Beal said of his ballhandling responsibilities before joking, “People thought I was point shaving for a minute, so coach sat me down. So I’m going to go ahead and take this one on the chin and let these boys handle the ball a little bit.”
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Beal always had point guard Tomas Satoransky to tidy up the offense. Satoransky once again performed better than just a custodian of the offense while starting in place of the injured John Wall. In 32 minutes, Satoransky moved the ball for 10 of the team’s 35 assists and committed just two turnovers. Since Wall went down, the Wizards have assisted on more than 70 percent of their made field goals.
Otto Porter Jr. fixed what appeared to be broken in the first half and saved possessions late in the shot clock by coolly knocking down long jumpers. Just before halftime, his shot near the top of the key beat the buzzer for the team’s ninth three-pointer of the half. Porter finished with 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting with three threes.
“I was just trying to get a good look,” Porter said of his first-half closer. “It was a good look, and it just happened to fall in.”
The Wizards scored more than 100 points for the 13th straight game, but their show of defense silenced the Sixers.
“Our defense was on point,” Washington Coach Scott Brooks said. “We made them miss a lot of shots, and that’s what we have to continue to do.”
Embiid appeared Sunday in only his third back-to-back game of the season. Though the Sixers organization has carefully watched over his minutes, Embiid has played as a dominant force, earning respect from NBA fans, who voted him as an all-star starter, as well as rival coaches. Before the game, Brooks portrayed Embiid as “one of the best bigs in the league, if not the best,” and in the first quarter, he lived up to that description.
In less than seven minutes of action in the opening quarter, Embiid had moments in which he seemed impossible to defend. On one play, Embiid faced Marcin Gortat (13 points, team-high 10 rebounds), pivoting with fundamental footwork before making a move to the paint. After two left-handed dribbles, Embiid flipped in a layup over his left shoulder.
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Although the Wizards had early problems in stopping Embiid — who collected eight of his game-high 25 points and three of his four assists during his short first-quarter stint — they defended every other Sixers player just fine.
Philadelphia could not hit a shot through nearly the opening three minutes of the second quarter. Even with Embiid back on the floor and playing more than eight minutes in the quarter, the Sixers went through droughts of sluggish offense. And no one delighted in Philadelphia’s misery more than Oubre.
Oubre, who finished with 19 points and three blocks, hit corner threes in front of a celebratory Wizards bench and swatted Philadelphia shots on the defensive end. He performed push-ups after taking a foul, and when he absorbed all 230 pounds of Sixers point guard Ben Simmons for a charge, he smiled broadly and sprinted downcourt.
Then, during a break in the action, Oubre waved his arms up and down, revving up the crowd while stepping in the general direction of Embiid, who was standing near the scorer’s table. Embiid simply nodded — after all, he has pulled that move a few times.
Still, the moment proved metaphorical. While Oubre strutted in the spotlight, Embiid, after his first-quarter dash, stalled and scored just three more points before halftime as the Wizards took a 67-48 lead into the break. Philadelphia shot just 36 percent for the game.
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“Everybody was just playing straight up,” Porter said. “We were trying to make sure that we didn’t pick up any silly fouls, because they were calling a bunch of touchy fouls. We tried to do the best that we could just playing straight up. Our bigs did a good job of limiting them to one shot and getting the rebound so we could leak out in transition.”
Note: For the second straight game, newly acquired guard Ramon Sessions did not play. Although Sessions signed a 10-day contract, Brooks does not seem to be in a rush to insert the veteran into the rotation.
“If we need an extra point guard, he’s available. He’s been with us now for a few days. He knows what we need to run,” Brooks said before the game. “He doesn’t have all of it down, but he has enough that I can throw him in there and he can run some of our stuff and defensively guard the ball, but right now he’s the third point guard.”