The Washington Wizards are heavy underdogs in their first-round playoff matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, no matter how you slice it. Despite a 17-6 run to close the season, the Wizards finished four games under .500 (34-38). The last team to win a playoff series after finishing the season with a losing record was the 1980-81 Houston Rockets. Meanwhile, the 76ers — with one of the most dominant starting lineups in recent memory — have held firm on the number-one seed in the East for most of the year. Per the Action Network, Washington is given a one-in-seven (+600 odds) chance of winning the series, and only five different times since 1988 has a team with more remote odds ended up victorious. So how can the Washington Wizards pull off the upset?
The Washington Wizards should have one main priority when they take on the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA playoffs: stop Joel Embiid.
To be competitive, Washington has to be ready for a grind-it-out, defensive slugfest. Between Danny Green, Ben Simmons, and Matisse Thybulle, the 76ers have plenty of bodies to shadow the Wizards’ star backcourt. One of the main ways to crack this impenetrable Philadelphia defense is through a stretch-big; unfortunately, this applies to none of the Wizard centers. And they won’t beat the 76ers with the three-ball. The Wizards finished second-to-last in three-point attempts for the season – a measly 42 more than the anachronistic San Antonio Spurs. That means Washington has to buckle down and win this series through their defense.
Priority No. 1, 2, and 3 for the Washington Wizards: Slow Down Joel Embiid
The 76ers don’t have an explosive pick-and-roll threat, nor do they have too many movement shooters. Their second-leading scorer (Tobias Harris) has never been an all-star. But they do have Joel Embiid, who may have been the MVP frontrunner before injuring his knee on March 12 in Washington. So the Wizards game-plan needs to be centered around stopping him and forcing the other guys to beat them. Here’s how I would go about this, broken into two parts: Before Joel Embiid receives the ball, and after Joel Embiid receives the ball.