Play-in basketball has officially begun! The Sixers organization will be watching closely as they wait to find out which team will be their first round opponent. Later this week, the Washington Wizards will square off against the Indiana Pacers. The loser will be sent home packing, while the winner will obtain the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and a first round date with the top seeded 76ers. We’ll take a look at how these teams stack up with Philadelphia and who the Sixers would rather see in the opening round.
How They Got Here
The Indiana Pacers played their way into the matchup by soundly defeating the Charlotte Hornets 144-117 during the first round of the play-in on Tuesday. This was a particularly impressive victory as they were without guard Caris LeVert, who entered the league’s health and safety protocols earlier this week. While the Pacers received solid efforts from every corner of their team (an astounding 8 players in double figures!), it was Domantas Sabonis, with a heroic 14 points, 21 rebounds, and 9 assists, who captained the ship.
Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards find themselves in this loser-leaves-town matchup after falling to the Boston Celtics 118-100. Neither of the Wizards’ stars could match the firepower of a hungry Jayson Tatum, who exploded for 50 points to lock his team into the playoffs. Russell Westrook struggled mightily in this game, shooting a mere 33% from the field and only dishing out 5 assists. Even worse, Westbrook appeared hobbled down the stretch and was particularly ineffective in the second half (see his 13 rebounds in the first half and 1 just in the second half). Beal needed 25 shots just to get to 22 points which isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs.
Who Does Philly Want to Draw?
The Sixers defeated the Wizards in all three of their regular season matchups this year. The strength of Washington’s team lies in their pair of all-star guards. That plays right into the hands of Philadelphia, who have the ability to feature the terrifying tandem of Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle. Embiid has been a monster in the paint against virtually any opponent this season but the Wizards would certainly have to double after losing multiple big men, chief among them Thomas Bryant, to injuries.
Speaking of injuries, the Pacers certainly have a few words to say on that topic. Myles Turner would have actually made Embiid work hard for his points in the paint, but alas, Indiana lost the league’s blocks leader for almost the entire season. Additionally, last year’s darling of the bubble, TJ Warren, has long been away from playing action as he recovers from a stress fracture in his left foot. If those two players were able to suit up alongside the likes of Sabonis, Brogden, and company the Pacers really would be a tough out. Unfortunately, that’s not reality and it is still uncertain when Caris LeVert would be able to clear the health and safety protocols and return to the team.
As currently constituted, the Pacers would run their offensive through Sabonis as an offensive hub out of the post. He truly would need to be the best player in the series for the Pacers to have a chance, and there’s no shot that Embiid allows another big to outshine him.
Philly will be heavily favored no matter who they draw, and I fully expect them to dominate their first round matchup in a momentum-building manner. While I think that the Washington Wizards would result in a more entertaining matchup, the Indiana Pacers are likely the team Philadelphia would rather play. There’s a very real chance that Beal would be the top scorer in a series with Philadelphia. There’s also the distinct possibility that Westbrook averages a triple-double. Both of these circumstances could happen and I’d still take Philly in the series, but there’s no reason to go up against two all-star caliber players if you don’t need to.