Entering their Game 1 showdown with the Washington Wizards on Sunday, the Philadelphia 76ers bear the look of a club that is ready to break out the brooms. After all, Philly went 3-0 against Washington during the regular season and outscored the Wizards by 11.2 points per 100 possessions along the way.
Moreover, history says that Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the D.C. crew should be little more than a speedbump on the Sixers’ path to bigger and better things. Since the NBA expanded postseason play to 16 teams in 1984, only five No. 8 seeds have ever managed a series win over the top-seeded club.
In other words, the No. 1 Sixers have bigger fish to fry.
Despite the disparity between the two teams, though, and Ben Simmons’ cred as a Defensive Player of the Year finalist notwithstanding, the Sixers will have to work if they hope to slow down the Wizards’ backcourt aces and bring the first-round playoff series to a quick conclusion.
It’s a task that may be easier said than done, even for Simmons.
On Thursday, TNT’s Kenny Smith weighed in on the battle between Simmons and the Wizards backcourt stars. In his opinion, Simmons may just find himself fighting a losing battle on the perimeter.
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Smith’s Hot Take on Simmons vs. Beal & Westbrook
Perimeter defense has been Simmons’ calling card this season and a key factor in Philly’s ascent to the top of the defensive food chain. However, the Beal-Westbrook tandem is as potent as any in the Association. And Smith believes that Simmons has an inherent disadvantage in attempting to slow it.
Namely, his size.
“Ben Simmons, I don’t think can play on the perimeter consistently with either [Beal or Westbrook],” Smith said, as relayed by NBC 4 Washington. “I was a decent scorer, but if a guy at 6-11 tried to guard me I would feel I had the advantage. I don’t care if Dennis Rodman switched out on me, I got him. He’s too big to move his feet on a consistent basis all game.”
In his assessment, expecting continued brilliance from Simmons against Beal and Westbrook may be an “impossible” ask.
“For a play, for a couple of plays, but if he picked me up full court like he’s gotta do with Russell Westbrook and Beal, impossible. Those two guys are too crafty, too good, too athletic [for Simmons] to do that.”
There may just be a method to Smith’s madness, too.
Beal Has Lit Up the Sixers Previously
Throughout his career, Beal in particular has played extremely well against Philly and even more so since Simmons entered the league. In the 11 games that the two have gone head-to-head, Beal has averaged 30.4 points per contest while shooting 50.4% from the floor and 47% from three-point range.
And this season, he may have had his best game as a pro baller in Simmons’ eye.
On January 6, the Sixers and Wizards squared off in a game that Philly would ultimately win by just five points. Beal logged a new career-high in the contest, scoring 60 points on 20-of-35 shooting. He also hit seven threes and added seven rebounds and five assists.
It’s exactly the kind of performance Simmons must stave off to keep the Sixers on track.
Westbrook, on the other hand, has struggled mightily against Simmons. In seven head-to-head matchups, the former NBA MVP has shot just 38.2% from the floor and 25% from distance. However, he has averaged a 24-11-10 triple-double in those games.
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