3 things Sixers fans should know about the Washington Wizards

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3 things Sixers fans should know about the Washington Wizards

The Wizards and 76ers are about to become rather chummy.

The two squads are poised for a home-and-home set beginning Tuesday in Philadelphia. Those of you paying attention to Washington this season are probably aware it’s been a rough ride through 40 games. The Wizards, a team with hopes of conference title contention when the season tipped, are 3.5 games out of a playoff spot.

The ceiling lowered following news John Wall required season-ending surgery for bone spurs in the back of his left heel.

Nobody told that to their other All-Star guard, Bradley Beal, or the other players. Washington improved to 3-2 in the last five games without Wall including Sunday’s stunning 116-98 win at Oklahoma City.

Some thoughts on what’s working and what to watch for during this two-game showdown.

1. They’re very different without John Wall offensively, but different doesn’t mean worse

Washington learned late in 2018 that Wall would miss the remainder of the campaign. Considering the Wizards’ struggles this season even with its five-time All-Star point guard, assuming the season would go kaput isn’t a major leap.

Hold that thought.

Similar to last season when the explosive, but ball-dominant Wall missed 41 games with injuries, the Wizards are finding a new path with a sharing-is-caring approach. In the five games since Wall’s last appearance, Washington leads the NBA in passes per game (331), one slot ahead of Philadelphia, while averaging 27 assists. On the season, the Wizards average 284.9 passes and 25.2 assists. The team’s offensive net rating, 108.3 on the season, jumped to 111.8 in the recent stretch.

Tomas Satoransky embodies the pass-first approach and cohesive vibe. The 6-foot-7 guard has 21 assists with only seven turnovers since replacing Wall in the starting lineup.

2. Otto Porter, super sub

Not every team brings their highest-paid player off the bench. The Wizards have done that in three games since Otto Porter returned from a knee injury that cost the small forward 10 games. There’s a good chance the status holds even as Porter rounds back into shape.

Among the NBA’s most efficient scorers and three-point threats over the previous two seasons, Porter labored through the early portion of the season along with his teammates. Among the primary issues were limited shot attempts and usage. A team player to a fault, Porter averages only 9.9 shots. His usage rate of 16.3 compares with Philadelphia’s supporting cast, namely Shake Milton (17.0) and Amir Johnson (16.4). That’s wild for a career 40 percent three-point shooter two years into a four-year, $106 million contract.

Playing with the second unit puts Porter in the focal point role. It’s also bringing out his aggressive side. Despite minutes restriction limiting him to fewer than 25 minutes in each of the last two games, Porter attempted 14 and 17 field goal attempts respectively. In 24 minutes against the Thunder, he had 20 points on 7 of 17 shooting (4 of 6 from beyond the arc) with six rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Following the win, Wizards coach Scott Brooks hinted at Porter remaining on the bench for now.

3. Boards battle

The Wizards remain dreadful on the glass this season. Their negative rebounding differential of 7.2 easily ranks as the league’s worst. The 76ers dominated the boards, 58-42, in the first head-to-head meeting this season, a rousing 123-98 romp.

Some blame goes to playing without center Dwight Howard (back surgery) for all but nine games, but mostly the effort inconsistency has plagued the team much of the season.

Here’s the thing: When they rebound, they win. Including the win in Oklahoma City, Washington is 9-0 this season when out-rebounding its opponent. With their lack of size, rebounding truly is a team effort for the Wizards. Seven players snagged at least five rebounds against the Thunder.

Winning the rebounding statistic isn’t necessary assuming they take advantage of opponents on the perimeter and in the open court. It just helps if they can keep the margin close. Just know if they flat out finish with more rebounds, they also are likely walking away with the win.

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Flaws and all, JJ Redick reminds us how much he means to Sixers

Flaws and all, JJ Redick reminds us how much he means to Sixers

Throughout his basketball career, JJ Redick has been known for one thing. It’s not rebounding.

“Ten rebounds, I never thought the day would come,” the 34-year-old told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters after the Sixers’ 118-114 win Tuesday over Hornets (see observations). “I never thought the day would come.”

Along with grabbing a career high in rebounds, Redick made a bunch of long range jumpers in Charlotte, something he continues to do at a very high level. He scored 27 points, 21 in the first 17 minutes, and made 7 of 14 three-point shots, while his teammates hit just 4 for 18. And forget about his first career double-double — he was two assists away from a triple-double. He even made a pivotal defensive play, taking a charge late in the fourth quarter. 

As Jimmy Butler told reporters, “JJ had an outstanding game. He was out there hooping.”

Redick is an easy target for criticism when he isn’t making shots — he’s a below-average defender and good teams sometimes make him look like a bad one. Futile isolation matchups against Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on Feb. 12 and Mo Harkless on Feb. 23 are two recent examples that come to mind. Sure, Redick competes defensively, but it often isn’t nearly enough.

To be a positive player for the Sixers, Redick usually can’t afford off shooting nights. Sometimes, it almost feels as if he’s a kicker in the NFL whose value and professional reputation rests on executing one particular skill under intense pressure. All Redick can do, or so it seems, is trust his shot, know the slumps aren’t going to last forever, and believe the percentages will eventually balance out in his favor.

That's not to say Redick is exactly like a kicker in the sense that he only has one useful trait. Redick perpetually circles around screens, makes opponents account for the countless options off his two-man game with Embiid, sets sneaky screens, gives his teammates slivers of space to work that are impossible to quantify.

This season Redick has checked off a couple of nice, clean milestones. He reached 10,000 career points in December and, on Tuesday night, passed Robert Covington for the second-most three-pointers made in a season by a Sixer. He has a chance to break Kyle Korver’s franchise record of 226 in the 2004-05 season.

Those stats are convenient tools to understand Redick. They are, without a doubt, helpful. But, after watching him play 137 regular-season games as a Sixer, it’s obvious they’re not sufficient.

Perhaps the best way to make sense of Redick and what he means to the Sixers is by considering the impact of Redick’s absence. The Sixers have a minus-1.1 net rating when Redick is off the floor this season and a plus-6.4 net rating when he’s on the court. That differential is, of course, boosted by Redick’s minutes with Embiid and the Sixers’ best players, but it’s impressive regardless. It’s not a fluke. 

And in the bigger picture, the Sixers’ offense without Redick is … not really the Sixers’ offense. Sure, pick-and-rolls and isolations with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris or post-ups with Embiid don’t rely on Redick, but the 13-year veteran is central to so much of what the Sixers do offensively. 

Redick is a flawed player. Brett Brown might need to pull him for defensive reasons at times in the playoffs. On nights when he’s not threatening triple-doubles, he generally needs to nail jumpers. All of those things are true, and they don’t prevent Redick from being a critical piece of the Sixers. 

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Sixers 118, Hornets 114: JJ Redick stars as Sixers escape with win

Sixers 118, Hornets 114: JJ Redick stars as Sixers escape with win

Updated: 1:02 a.m. 

The Sixers beat the Hornets Tuesday night in Charlotte, 118-114, extending their season-high winning streak to five games.

It wasn't as simple as it sounds. Without Joel Embiid (rest), JJ Redick and Ben Simmons starred, while Jimmy Butler and James Ennis made clutch shots down the stretch to lift the Sixers to a wild victory in a game that had 22 lead changes.

Jeremy Lamb missed an open shot at the rim that would've tied the game and possibly set up for a third consecutive overtime game between the Sixers and Hornets. 

Heading into Wednesday's matchup vs. the Celtics, the Sixers are 46-25, 2.5 games up on the Pacers for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference after Indiana's loss to the Clippers.

• Redick picked up where he left off Sunday (19 points on 7 for 10 shooting) by making his first three field goals, including the opening points of the game on a Redick special — an improbable three-pointer from the left wing that was late in the shot clock, off-balance and very tightly contested. 

A three from the right corner that didn’t disturb any part of the rim gave him 21 points in the first 17 minutes. 

Redick passed Robert Covington for the second-most three-pointers made in a season in franchise history.

Kyle Korver has the record with 226 in the 2004-05 season.

Though Redick cooled off in the second half, he did a little bit of everything Tuesday night. In addition to 27 points, he grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, dished out eight assists, and even took a key charge in the fourth quarter. 

• Sixers fans already have two very good memories of Jimmy Butler in Spectrum Center. After nailing a game-winner in overtime on Nov. 17, Butler (23 points on 8 for 19 shooting) hit a clutch three-pointer from the left corner to give the Sixers the lead with 1:27 to go. 

• The Sixers’ bench badly needed someone to provide a little offense. James Ennis did that and much more. He finished with 14 points on 6 for 9 shooting and nailed two massive threes in the fourth quarter. 

Talk about seizing a role on a team and not letting go — well done, James Ennis. 

• In his last five games, Ben Simmons has just seven turnovers. It’s a nice stat on the surface, but what’s perhaps most encouraging for Simmons is that he hasn’t seriously sacrificed his exceptional open-court skills to take better care of the ball. 

Simmons had a pair of dunks in the first quarter off very convincing dribble handoff fakes.

Though it’s certainly excusable for a player who’s only missed one game this season, it looked like Simmons took off a couple of possessions defensively, allowing his man to beat him on the initial move and not making much of an effort to recover. 

He posted 28 points on an incredible 11 of 12 from the floor, with eight rebounds and five assists.

• Amir Johnson started in Embiid’s place, while Boban Marjanovic came off the bench. The duo combined for four points and four rebounds in 27 minutes. 

Marjanovic didn’t have a good first half. He got beat for a few rebounds and didn't attempt a shot in 10 minutes. If the Sixers are going to try to steal minutes from Marjanovic against centers with some agility who can knock down threes, he needs to win the matchup offensively and on the boards. While you don’t want to force feed him the ball, the reality is Marjanovic needs to score vs. smaller centers like Frank Kaminsky to offset his defensive weaknesses.

Jonah Bolden took Marjanovic’s minutes in the second half, his first action since March 10 vs. Indiana. Though the rookie was understandably not his sharpest and was called for four fouls in his 11 minutes, he’s far better equipped than Marjanovic to guard stretch fives and pick up guards on switches.

Finally, Brett Brown used Simmons as his small-ball center to wrap up the game.

With 11 games to go, who Brown turns to at backup center against Boston should give us a better idea of exactly how willing he is to ride with Marjanovic, and how much trust he has in Bolden.

• After giving up a career-high 60 points to Kemba Walker in November, the Sixers had to be relieved when the Hornets’ star picked up his third foul in the first quarter and took a seat on the bench. 

But the Sixers couldn’t avoid Walker forever. He scored 13 of the Hornets’ 30 points in the third quarter, vaulting Charlotte into the lead. 

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