In the first ever playoff edition of the Bleav in Wizards podcast, Larry Hughes and I dissected the Wizards’ Game 1 strategy and laid out the adjustments we think the team needs to make in order to have a chance at winning the series.
A lot of the online debate among Wizards’ fans seemed to center around two topics: whether the Wizards should ditch the three-guard lineup in favor of bigger wings and whether or not they should double team Joel Embiid.
Hughes and I are both of the opinion that the Wizards need to play at least one more of their wings to combat the 76ers glut of forwards. Given how heavily the Wizards feature Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal offensively, it won’t really hinder their ability to score if they replaced Raul Neto in the starting lineup with Anthony Gill or Chandler Hutchison. Even Garrison Mathews might help at this point.
The combination of Gill and Rui Hachimura would allow the Wizards to switch more interchangeably. Gills proven himself to be a competent enough three-point shooter that they may not actually take much of a step backward offensively by making that switch. Similarly, if they decide to go with Chandler Hutchison, his cutting and slashing might help the Wizards put the 76ers in more foul trouble.
Playing another forward would also give them more length when doubling Joel Embiid, which we think they must continue to do. Embiid is so skilled that you can’t just continue to give him the same look for the entire game. Using smaller players like Westbrook and Ish Smith to help double team proved largely ineffective. This could partly be due to the fact that he was expecting it and prepared to deal with it since the Wizards did that a lot in their regular season match-ups as well.
Mixing up the defensive tactics on Embiid may not result in a worse shooting percentage or more turnovers but it will keep him on his toes. If he slows down even a little because he doesn’t know to expect, that’s to the defense’s advantage.
Hughes also believed it would be beneficial to sag off of Embiid early and allow him to take longer jumpshots. In past seasons, if he hit a few early he tended to fall in love with that. That hasn’t been the case much this season but it’s worth trying and seeing if he reverts back to old tendencies.
We also discussed Scott Brook’s postgame comments about some of the players’ lack of postseason experience. Hughes talked about having to cover Penny Hardaway in his first playoff match-up and gave his advice for Hachimura. Essentially, it boiled down to playing as hard as you can while playing as smartly as you can.
This made for an interesting segue because we wanted to address Grant Hill’s fourth quarter comments about the 76ers outworking the Wizards. Granted there were a few possessions where someone on the Wizards failed to get back on defense while complaining about a no-call. But overall, we both felt like the Wizards matched their energy and intensity, they just made more mistakes and were careless with the ball at inopportune times.
Hughes also talked about the “bromance” between Scott Brooks and Russell Westbrook, whether or not Brooks actually coaches Westbrook, and Westbrook needing to be a better game manager. The Wizards lack of ball movement at critical junctures was also a cause for concern for us.
We closed out the show by explaining why we don’t like the rumors about the Wizards potentially targetting DeMar DeRozan in free agency and how Hachimura needs to step up for the Wizards to take a step forward next season.