NBA Playoffs: How the Washington Wizards can stop Joel Embiid and upset the Philadelphia 76ers

Washington Wizards Bradley Beal Joel Embiid (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Bradley Beal Joel Embiid (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Washington Wizards.
Washington Wizards. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

What the Washington Wizards must do before Joel Embiid receives the ball

  • Disrupt Philadelphia’s flow

The 76ers’ offense is designed to get Embiid the rock in his sweet spot: the left block. They usually do this by setting cross-screens for him. After that, Simmons will reverse the ball to whichever side Embiid is on and cut to the dunker’s spot, and then the Sixer making the entry pass will clear out to the opposite corner once Joel receives the ball. Washington needs to turn this process (no pun intended) into a chore for the Sixers so that they aren’t just on autopilot. Make them feel you on the off-ball screens (no pointless switching!). Pressure the ball-handler. Deny the catch so ferociously that they have to cut backdoor. Philadelphia may have the size advantage, but they only have one player (Simmons) capable of getting downhill. I’d much rather see those guys go off-script than watch Embiid eat in the post.

  • Lock in on the 76ers flex actions

The 76ers often run some sort of “flex” action where Tobias Harris cuts across the lane (trying to seal his man) and then darts up the lane (after slipping the “flex” screen) for a curl if that’s not open. This is why I would start Rui Hachimura on Harris since he has the heft to prevent Harris from burrowing his way into the restricted area. Another play that Doc Rivers likes to run is a wide pin-down for Seth Curry into a dribble hand-off with Embiid. The Wizards must prevent him from getting clean looks off of this, either by top-locking and shading help over or trailing hard and (possibly) a hard show/trap once he receives it. The Wizards’ pointless switching shouldn’t be an option, as Simmons/Harris is usually the one setting the initial pin-down for Curry.

  • Know the scouting report

We discussed top-locking Curry, but all of the other Philadelphia starters have unique aspects that must be accounted for. Keep a keen eye on Danny Green, as he will sneak across the baseline into the strong-side, a legendary maneuver known as the “Danny Green cut.” Ben Simmons — a lethal transition weapon — will feint towards a shooter and catch the defender off-balance. Against him, the Wizards must go under all screens, even on the “snug” actions closer to the basket. Since March 25, Simmons is averaging just 11.4 points per game; I’d play the pass with him until further notice. Tobias Harris is much more comfortable attacking to the left than to the right. When Harris posts up, Embiid will chill at the top of the arc, which allows his defender to crash in and disrupt Harris’ shot.

Simplifying this to sentence: Being in rotation is not a bad thing, but being bludgeoned is.

Philadelphia doesn’t have the floor-spacing of other contenders; they are still a clunky, stilted team at its core. Harris makes baffling choices on the catch. The Wizards should be able to scramble and help/recover on the back-side. They must force Curry, Green, and Harris into making decisions against close-outs. Which leads me to my next point…