Opening Statements 1: Wizards vs Sixers: The Regular Season Is Here | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements 1: Wizards vs Sixers: The Regular Season Is Here

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Updated: October 18, 2017

 

 

 

Washington Wizards vs Philadelphia 76ers

 

The regular season is finally here. Gone are truncated minutes for starters, lukewarm receptions from smaller-than-normal crowds, and experimental lineups from coaches.

Those necessary preseason-isms will now be replaced by increased (but measured) minutes by starters, frenzied crowds, and the solidification of rotations in preparation for what each team hopes will be a successful, lengthy season.

The Wizards and their “big” three of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter figure to be prominent players in the Eastern Conference — partly because of the continuity of their starting lineup and the unfortunate injury to Gordon Hayward, and partly because the Celtics may not be the team they were just one year ago.

The Wizards will begin the season without Markieff Morris, who continues to recover from sports hernia surgery. At the conclusion of yesterday’s practice, Wizards Coach Scott Brooks was still unsure who will start at the “4” in place of Morris. Jason Smith made his case by scoring 20 points in the preseason finale against the New York Knicks, but Kelly Oubre and Mike Scott were also effective in much smaller sample sizes.

With or without Morris, John Wall in particular seems to have already entered the season with a sizable chip on his shoulder. He was disappointed with his play at the end of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Celtics, and he spent the entire summer channeling his inner 6 Million Dollar Man:  he got better, stronger and faster.  Wall’s chip seemed to grow even more yesterday when he noticed that he was excluded from ESPN’s promo tweet for the return of the NBA (although in all fairness he was featured prominently in TNT’s welcome-back-NBA promo).

When Wall and the Wizards look across the floor at the Capital One Arena, they will see the Philadelphia 76ers and the updated version of their process. Joel Embiid will be there with his bulls**t minutes restriction, Ben Simmons will surely be a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate, Markelle Fultz (who won’t be starting due to his limited minutes in the preseason) will be determined to fight his way into the starting lineup, and JJ Redick will add veteran savvy and sharp-shooting to the mix.

Even when the Sixers were wading through injuries and G-league level talent, Coach Brett Brown always had the Sixers playing a tough, determined brand of basketball. The talent upgrade, which brings higher expectations, figures to make this an even more difficult team to beat and should make for quite an entertaining opening night.

Here to help me preview tonight’s opening game are two gentlemen who know quite a bit about the Sixers. Michael Tillery (@michaeltillery), founder of The Starting Five and host of The Starting Five Live at RAPstation Radio, has been covering the NBA and the Sixers for over 10 years. John Mitchell (@freejohnmitchel), who is currently a columnist at The Philadelphia Tribune and used to cover the Wizards for the The Washington Times, also covered the Sixers for two years while writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Q #1: Over the past two years I’ve heard several opposing head coaches praise Brett Brown for the job he’s done with the Sixers during “The Process”.  But starting with this season–fairly or unfairly–there are now increased expectations on this team, which means added pressure for Coach Brown.  Is Brett Brown the guy that can help the Sixers take that next step? Or did he serve his purpose during the “Process” years and do the Sixers need to upgrade?

Tillery:  I like Brett Brown as a coach. He is a winner. He has a great opportunity to turn the corner this season, and shock better teams in the 4th quarter because the Sixers are gifted and respect his hoops acumen. I do think the process of getting  this team where it needs to be would take a toll on any coach. Observing Brown and talking to him before and after games, I sense a care for his team that smacks of sense of urgency. He’s professional, talented in how he interacts with his team, and is definitely the man to see this through.

Mitchell: I’m not certain due to the fact that he found himself in the unique situation of coaching a team that for the first three seasons he served as coach the expectations were non-existent. I have given him the benefit of the doubt based on the fact that he’s from the Popovich tree and has had nothing to coach. The one certainty about him is Embiid and Simmons appear to be very fond of him. And when Embiid was healthy (for all of 31 games over the last three seasons) they were better defensively than anyone should have expected. It’s almost as if he’s finally being evaluated the way the rest of the league is beginning this year. For that reason, he has earned the right to coach them. However, the leash doesn’t have a lot of slack. He’ll need to get this crew to congeal quickly, otherwise, I can see them heading in a different direction.

Q #2: This may seem like a stupid question, but who are you more excited to see, Markelle Fultz, Embiid or Ben Simmons?

Tillery: I was talking to a good basketball man over lunch recently, and he looked at me funny because I said Fultz had a little Wade in him. He spoke of how his shooting form (almost shoots with the ball in front of him) will get his shot blocked many times. I would have taken Jayson Tatum. Ben Simmons (my ROY) and Joel Embiid (my DPOY) are absolute monsters under the basket. They will be fun to watch because their talent level is next gen. I’m very interested in Jahlil Okafor’s commitment to becoming an all star type player. With all the talk of the aforementioned three teammates, is he inspired? I sensed a fire in the preseason, and surely the city hopes he has a personal “sense of urgency” to be the wildcard instrumental in taking this team to crowd nourishing heights. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern once told me that he’d do anything in his power to see Boston, New York, Philly and LA become the league’s flagship franchises once again. Okafor could be a key few are anticipating to be a major contributor this season.

Mitchell: Simmons. I can’t remember when I’ve seen someone that big with that combination of skills. Have you seen anyone that big that has vision like his? Yes, he’s got to get a jumper. But the court vision/size combination is freakish. Of course, we are all holding our breath hoping Embiid is healthy. If he is he’s got once-in-a-generation skills, but it’s been three years now. Fultz is behind and is expected to come off the bench. He’s playing catch up and will get in where he fits in, which is good as it will relieve him of expectations. But Simmons is the one.

Q #3: Did the Sixers fail Jahlil Okafor? And do you think he still has a future in this league given that his current skill-set seems to be fading away?

Tillery: I don’t think the Sixers failed Okafor. He’s still here. Disappointed Nerles Noel is gone over Okafor, but the silver lining is maybe he’s incentivized to finally do some things now that he’s older and more experienced. I do think he’s a winner, but I wonder if he has what it takes internally to become a league factor.

Mitchell: He very much has a future. And if Embiid isn’t healthy (who can honestly say he is with absolute certainty?), then Sixers fans will be seeing a whole lot more of him.  He needs to be in a situation where the team values what he can do with his back to the basket because that is his game. He’s developed – and he has contributed to it with his play – a reputation of an awful defender/rim protector. I don’t think he’ll ever be a defensive force at the basket, but he’s big enough to move people into positions where they’re less effective offensively. And he’s better than all but about three, four centers at the offensive end.  He’s showed up in shape and looks like he wants to prove people wrong, so we’ll see.

Q #4: How many games will the Sixers win and will they make the playoffs?

Tillery: Philly will win 45 games if they stay healthy, and make the playoffs.

Mitchell: Playoffs? The East is pathetic.  However, the expectations of this team are a little out of hand in Philly, maybe a little too high. I think they will make the playoffs and win around 42-45 games. Do that, stay healthy, and next year, when Ben Simmons convinces stablemate LBJ to come to Philly and make it a Big Four, watch the hell out.

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.