Sixers Look to Send Wizards Packing in Game Five

Ben Simmons
NEW ORLEANS, LA – APR 09: Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans in the first half during a NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA on Apr 09, 2021. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

In Game Four, it felt like just about everything went wrong for the Sixers which allowed the Wizards to steal a victory and prevent getting swept. Now holding a 3-1 lead, the teams will return to Philly to battle in the Wells Fargo Center for a matchup that will occur at full capacity for the first time all season. The uncertainty regarding Joel Embiid’s availability leads the headlines but this should be the final game of the series regardless of if the Sixers star is able to play or not.

Joel Embiid’s Status:

After following awkwardly in the first quarter of game four, Joel Embiid was forced to head to the locker room and undergo further medical testing. The Sixers once again proved to be a shell of themselves without their MVP and scrambled for the rest of the game. While Embiid stayed in the game following the initial fall and did not appear to show any sort of limp leaving the court, concerns were raised when it was ruled a knee injury.

News surrounding the status of Joel Embiid’s knee was eerily quiet yesterday. It is relevant to note that the Sixers team plane did not get back until 6 am and this is when the testing began. There has been no clarity on the type of injury is that Embiid is dealing with, but it was reported that Embiid is likely doubtful for tonight’s matchup.

While the knee-jerk reaction may be to be greatly concerned with this, the fact that Embiid even has a chance to play should be looked at as a positive. Reports indicate that the Sixers are optimistic with the initial testing results and if there was some structural damage the tune would likely be much different.

Sixers keys if Embiid is unable to play

In all likelihood, the Sixers will be forced to play without their star in tonight’s matchup. Embiid missed 21 games this season and the Sixers were 10-11 in these matchups. There certainly is a change in the team’s identity when Embiid is not on the court and the Sixers will have to shift their mindset into finding a way to win without him.

Finding Production from the Big Man:

While he has certainly shown flashes throughout the season, Dwight Howard has been nothing short of atrocious so far in this Wizards series. In 64 minutes of play this series, Dwight has scored 17 points and tallied 14 personal fouls. In Game 4 alone, Howard played 14 minutes and produced a stat line of 1 point, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls, and a -10 plus/minus rating.

The referees have not allowed Dwight to play physically and he has yet to find his rhythm this postseason. In addition to his play, Howard was brought here due to his veteran leadership and championship pedigree. The 35-year-old will be forced to play more minutes and the offense will need to be altered in order to create more alley-oop opportunities for him to add to the scoresheet.

Outside of Dwight Howard, the Sixers looked to Mike Scott and Ben Simmons to fill minutes as the primary big man. The Wizards found success by using their big men on offense with Embiid out, as Daniel Gafford and Robin Lopez combined for 28 points in game four. The Sixers are thin at this position without Embiid, but Rivers will need to make some sort of adjustment to get more production out of whoever serves as the Sixers’ primary big man.

Doc Rivers Must Get Rotation Right

Doc Rivers deserves a ton of credit for his coaching throughout the season, but game four was arguably his most poorly coached game all year. While it is tough to make adjustments on the fly given that Embiid left due to injury and Ben Simmons getting stuck in early foul trouble, Rivers failed to ever get the team into a rhythm.

The debates over who’s minutes would be cut in the postseason appear to be meaningless as Rivers continues to go 12 deep in his rotation. He also continues to lean on the “all-bench lineup” for spurts at a time which has been the cause of great frustration throughout the season. While the Sixers may be able to get away with this against a below-average Wizards team, this will ruin the Sixers’ chance of winning against a higher-quality playoff team.

In Game Four, Tyrese Maxey dazzled off the bench scoring 15 points in 22 minutes and playing great defense on Russell Westbrook down the other end. Despite the spark he provided to the team, Maxey was subbed out late in the game in favor of Seth Curry who shot 0-4 from deep in the game and ended with a team-low -11 rating. A similar criticism could be said of Furkan Korkmaz who played just 11 minutes, despite scored 7 straight of the Sixers’ points during this time and also adding 3 rebounds.

While the Sixers have not relied heavily on a set offense throughout the season, this was an adjustment that could have been used in game four. Tobias Harris struggled in the post and was able to be more of a focus of the defense with Joel Embiid out. This resulted in multiple contested shots being tossed up and Harris being blocked several times, and if Rivers could draw up a few plays to create some easier looks for Harris it could go a long way to getting the offense fully rolling.

Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons:

If Joel Embiid is unable to suit up, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons will undoubtedly be looked at to shoulder more of the offensive load. Both of the Sixers’ stars were subpar in Game Four with Tobias shooting 8 of 24 from the field and Ben Simmons attempting just 5 shots overall. Both players will need to be more aggressive for the Sixers to be able to make up for the scoring that will be lost in Embiid’s absence.

While Ben Simmons has been the Sixers’ best player throughout the series, he was handcuffed by foul trouble in the previous game. After picking up his fourth foul just 12 seconds into the second half, Simmons had to take his foot off the gas to ensure he was able to stay in the game. While his late-game free-throw shooting was frustrating, it is important to note that Simmons had just 3 assists in the previous game and needs to do a better job of creating chances for his teammates regardless if this is not what the majority of the public hope to see.

Sixers vs Wizards predictions

The Sixers should be expected to come out with a chip on their shoulder following the frustrating loss. If they can punch their ticket to the next round in this game, it will provide more time for Joel Embiid and the rest of the team to rest up before the next round. Look for the team to feed off the energy of the crowd and make this a statement win against a team that they are significantly more talented than.

Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire