Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor
Note – this is the second in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action, see part one here
In Part one of our 76ers bubble preview we covered the team’s matchups with the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs. In this edition, we will be tackling the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic.
Pre-stoppage record: 24-40 (ninth in East)
Key players: Rui Hachimura (13.4 pts/6.0 reb/1.7 ast, 47.8% FG), Ish Smith (10.5/3.2/4.8, 36.7% 3FG), Thomas Bryant (12.1/6.8/1.9, 59.9% FG)
The Wizards entered the 2019-2020 season with a roster that more closely resembled the process 76ers of old than the moderately successful Washington teams that had challenged for berths in the Eastern Conference Finals in recent memory. Bradley Beal surprisingly inked a two-year extension to stay in Washington, and even more surprisingly did not immediately demand a trade.
John Wall continued his absence due to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered in February 2019. Dwight Howard, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis and almost every other NBA-caliber player on the 2018-2019 version of the team was either traded, released or allowed to leave via free agency. The Wizards were expected to challenge for the #1 spot in the 2020 NBA Lottery.
Two important factors got in the way in their race to the bottom, however. First, they play in the East, home to five of the bottom seven teams in the NBA, and that would have been the bottom six had the Warriors still had Stephen Curry this season. Second, coach Scott Brooks implemented a system that created more wide-open threes (as opposed to the self-created, off the dribble variety the team tended to take in the past) and encouraged players to get shots up whenever they were available. As a result, the Wizards were third in the league in three-point percentage (led by Davis Bertans’s 42.4% on 8.7 attempts per night) and sixth in the league in points per game. Bradley Beal blossomed without Wall in the lineup, standing second in the league in scoring at 30.5 points per game while also dishing out 6.2 assists.
Defensively, however, they were 29th in points allowed per night, despite forcing the third most turnovers in the league, which in turn led to a 24-40 record and a firm spot outside of the playoffs when the season stopped in March.
It was a surprise to see Washington included in the NBA’s restart because they were so far behind the eighth-place Magic in the standings. Presumably, the league felt a need to include any team that COULD catch the eighth seed in their conference in eight games, so the Wizards were invited to Orlando.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, leading scorers Beal (torn rotator cuff) and Bertans (fear of re-injuring twice-torn ACL prior to free agency), who combined for 45.9 points per night, will not be joining them in Disney. This will leave the bulk of the scoring load on the young shoulders of Rui Hachimura (13.4 points per night on a decent 47.8% field goal percentage, especially when you consider he shot 27.4% from 3)). Jordan McCrae (12.8 ppg in 29 games), Thomas Bryant (12.1 points/6.8 rebounds) and Troy Brown (9.4 points) will also be expected to contribute more scoring.
Pre-stoppage record: 30-35 (eighth in East)
Key players: Nikola Vucevic (19.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.7 APG), Evan Fournier (18.8 PPG, 3.2 APG, 40.6 3P%), Aaron Gordon (14.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.7 APG)
The Magic gave the Sixers some issues this season. Although both were close games, the Magic picked up two wins over the Sixers. Sitting in the eighth seed the Magic are going to be playing hard in these seeding games to move up to avoid a first-round series against the Bucks.
It's no surprise the Magic have been able to compete with the Sixers as they are one of the few teams with the size to match them. Led by All-Star center and former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and forward Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a roster full on length and athleticism. The Magic also have good shooting on their roster like Evan Fournier who is having a career year shooting the ball from deep.
The Magic have a few blasts from the past for the Sixers, biggest being former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz. Although things did not pan out in Philly, Fultz looks to be making the most of his new home. This season for the Magic he averaged 12.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 5.2 APG while shooting just under 50% from the field.
This game gives the Sixers another chance to rectify one of their biggest issues this season, dropping games to below average teams. Although the Magic currently sit in a playoff spot, there is no reason why the Sixers should drop this game when they face off. Facing off against a young athletic team like the Magic will give the Sixers a chance to see how their new lineup will look in a fast-paced game.