The Sixers on Wednesday night will play their first game that counts in Philadelphia since March 11, with no fans in attendance as the NBA begins its 2020-21 season in home markets during the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are the essentials for their season opener vs. the Wizards:
- When: 7 p.m. with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:15 p.m.
- Where: Wells Fargo Center
- Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
- Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app
And here are three storylines to watch:
New season, new look
Yet again, the Sixers transformed their roster around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid this offseason, acquiring Danny Green and Seth Curry and dealing away Josh Richardson and Al Horford. They’ve made major changes to their front office and coaching staff, too, with president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and head coach Doc Rivers the two big names of note.
Though the team has expressed optimism about the impact Green, Curry and backup center Dwight Howard can have, it doesn’t look likely that the Sixers will emerge as Eastern Conference contenders without their two stars improving. The Sixers are banking on Rivers’ messages resonating in a way Brett Brown’s did not at the end of his tenure. They’re also hopeful he guides Tobias Harris back to being the player he was during his career-best 2018-19 stretch with the Clippers.
How does Rivers feel about those expectations in Year 1 on the job?
“As a coach, you always feel that,” he said Tuesday. “At least I do. I think you should, shouldn’t you? This is why you do it. If you have a young team, you’re nervous, you feel that weight, you want to see how they’re going to perform. You have a team like us that has a little bit of everything, a team that has a chance, in my opinion, to be very special. You want to see how they’re going to compete and how they show. You also want to find out what you need to work on.
“I can tell you, I don’t know if I’ve ever gone in a game without having that feeling — even after the first game, Game 30 or 40. It’s probably why I still do it. It’s actually a pretty good energy to have.”
How will Sixers defend high-scoring backcourt?
Both members of Washington’s revamped backcourt have had historical success against the Sixers. Bradley Beal has posted 21.6 points per game and shot 40.8 percent from three-point range vs. the Sixers, while Russell Westbrook has nearly averaged a triple-double (23.1 points, 9.8 assists, 9.0 rebounds).
Simmons defended the new duo well last season. When matched up against Simmons, Beal shot 6 for 15. Westbrook was 4 for 14.
Since Simmons obviously can’t guard the two at once, what will the Sixers do Wednesday night? Our best guess is they start with Simmons on Westbrook and Green guarding Beal. The 33-year-old Green was very good defensively during the Sixers’ two-game preseason. Much more importantly, he has a long track record of positive contributions on that end of the floor.
The Wizards will be without second-year forward Rui Hachimura, who’s sidelined for the beginning of the season with an eye infection.
Embiid vs. Westbrook
They won’t be guarding each other, but Westbrook vs. Embiid is always a matchup to watch.
The last time they played at Wells Fargo Center, on Jan. 19, 2019, Westbrook objected to a hard fourth-quarter foul by Embiid. After the game, Westbrook responded to the question of whether he was cool with Embiid by saying, simply, “F--- no.”
Embiid is 0-5 in his career against Westbrook.