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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