Washington Wizards: Playoff series vs. Philadelphia 76ers will reignite old feud

Washington Wizards Russell Westbrook. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards Russell Westbrook. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

You almost couldn’t write a more storybook season for Russell Westbrook. His journey since arriving in Washington is one from a legendary mythmaking blueprint.

He started the season hurt but still got Westbrookian numbers. He got healthy just as the season seemed lost. But it wasn’t. There was just enough time for Westbrook to go on a triple-double tear that propelled the Wizards into the playoffs and him into the record books as the man with the most triple-doubles of all time. Westbrook had 20 triple-doubles over the last 25 games, the Wizards went 17-8, and now, the Wizards are in the playoffs for the first time in three years. The man saved the season.

But that’s not the end of it. In a twist that seems like it couldn’t have come from anywhere but the writer’s room, Westbrook is now getting a series-long shot against his biggest nemesis, Joel Embiid.

If you’re unfamiliar with the long-standing rivalry between these two, let’s break it down.

It all started on December 15, 2017, in a triple-overtime thriller between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Joel Embiid waved goodbye to Steven Adams after the Thunder center fouled out. When the final buzzer sounded, and the Thunder won 119-117, Westbrook waved goodbye to Embiid. It was just the start of the pettiness.

In their meeting later that season on January 28, 2018, you could tell the two hadn’t become best buds, as Westbrook stared down Embiid as time expired in the Thunder’s 122-112 win. Embiid, at the time, was on the bench. In their next matchup, on January 19, 2019, Embiid fell hard on Westbrook toward the end of what would be a 117-115 win for the Thunder. Westbrook obviously took exception.

The beef between Westbrook and Embiid is not just for show. It’s legit and has even spilled over into the All-Star Game. But for the most part, Westbrook has been the victor. In his career, Westbrook is 5-3 when playing against Joel Embiid, averaging 25.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.5 steals. Embiid averages 27.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.8 blocks when playing against Westbrook.

The Washington Wizards’ first playoff series in three years definitely won’t lack any drama, thanks to the Russell Westbrook-Joel Embiid feud.

In Westbrook’s first season as a member of the Eastern Conference, he leads his new squad on a miraculous comeback and is now matched up against his most hated rival. From a pure entertainment standpoint, we could not have asked for anything better.

When the Wizards clinched their play-in spot, it was obvious that they were getting some drama in the first round, thanks to Russell Westbrook. If they had beaten Boston and clinched the seventh seed, the Wizards would be gearing up for a series vs. the Brooklyn Nets. Two of Westbrook’s former Thunder teammates, Kevin Durant and James Harden, lead that juggernaut. Plus, Scott Brooks coached all three in his Thunder days.

That would have been a series ripe with storylines, no doubt, but the mano a mano beef between Westbrook and Embiid is a little more personal, a little more fiery, and should be a little more entertaining, too. Despite having a better record vs. the Nets this season (2-1) than the 76ers (0-3), the Wizards probably have a better shot at stealing a few games and pulling off the upset against Philly than Brooklyn. The Wizards have not beaten the Nets when Durant, Harden, and Kyrie Irving all play.

Plus, the disdain Westbrook has for Embiid will make for more fireworks. If the Wizards go down, we know they’ll go down swinging against the 76ers. At the very least, Westbrook will. Get your popcorn ready. Playoff basketball is back in D.C.

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