Instant Observations: Embiid, Harden Help Sixers Glide to Win Over Wizards

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) drives to the basket against against Washington Wizards center Daniel Gafford (21) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers cruised to a 112-93 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 34 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a steal and four blocks. James Harden had 18 points and 14 assists. It was just another ho-hum game for that duo. The Sixers came into the game with a clean injury report, although Jalen McDaniels exited in the first half with a right hip contusion.

The Wizards were led by Corey Kispert, who scored 25 points off the bench. Bradley Beal finished with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting.

The Sixers are 45-22 this season and are on a five-game winning streak. Their next matchup is against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. Here are some instant observations from the win:

– The Sixers were locked in defensively against the Wizards, which was refreshing after allowing 119.2 points per game over their prior six games. Washington did not get on the score board until a Daniel Gafford layup with 9:08 left in the first quarter. The Sixers held Washington to six points on 3-of-11 shooting in the first 7:26 of action.

P.J. Tucker was in the center of things in the opening quarter, flying around and impacting the game both defensively and on the glass. On two consecutive possessions, he blocked a Kristaps Porzingis jumper and drew a charge on Beal. Tucker went into halftime leading the team in plus-minus (plus-10) while having five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. A lot of the fanbase got on Tucker early this season, but he has quietly made a lot of impact plays in recent months.

The team’s defense on Beal was impressive, holding him to just seven points at halftime. Beal is the kind of player who can be a game-wrecker, but the Sixers prevented him from getting to his spots. The trio of Embiid, Tucker and Tobias Harris all stepped up to effectively slow Beal down.

– Harris put together a strong performance, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He is in the midst of a prolonged offensive slump, and it began to rub off on his defensive engagement in the win over the Portland Trail Blazers. However, he did a good job recovering and playing at a very high level defensively against the Wizards. In addition to helping defend against Beal, he also spent a large portion of the game matched up against the taller Porzingis. Harris excelled in that matchup, holding Porzingis to nine points on 4-of-15 shooting. He made a lot of high-effort plays, including recovering to come from behind and block a Beal mid-range jumper. It was impressive to see him battle through his offensive struggles to still find ways to make a positive impact.

– The Sixers offense came out a bit flat and vanilla outside of the star duo of Embiid and Harden. Embiid missed his first three shots, but it was smooth sailing from that point on. He punished the Wizards through a mixture of mid-range jumpers and attacking Gifford in the paint. The Sixers’ overarching offensive strategy against the Wizards involved one play: Pick-and-rolls with Harden and Embiid. The big fella was automatic around the elbow, with plays like the one below being commonplace.

Embiid also stepped things up defensively, especially in the third quarter. He recorded three blocks in the third quarter alone while helping hold the Wizards to just 19 points. His presence around the paint, in and of itself, impacted so many shots throughout the night.

Harden quietly put together another strong night, keeping the offense in rhythm while scoring the ball at a consistent level. One of the biggest differences between his play last season and this season is his outside shooting. He is connecting from long distance at a career-high efficiency, and it opens up his ability to drive to the basket.

– Another game, another positive bench performance for the Sixers. The bench as a whole had a quiet first half, but they exploded in the final frame. The Harden-led bench lineup effectively broke the game open, going on a 22-10 run to expand the lead to 24 points midway through the fourth quarter. It took three quarters of the season, but head coach Doc Rivers finally figured out the right rotation management. Staggering Embiid and Harden’s minutes so that Harden can lead the second unit is working wonders. Running lineups with Harden, two guards, either McDaniels or Georges Niang and Paul Reed is thus far having mostly positive results.

The highlight bench performances came from Reed and De’Anthony Melton. Melton began the run in the fourth quarter by knocking down a 3-pointer near the end of the shot clock. He had a balanced performance, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks off the bench.

Reed continued his recent string of good games, making multiple hustle plays, especially on the glass. It is clear he is getting more comfortable with each passing game. He still makes the occasional poor play and brings some chaos on the floor, but he has earned the backup center minutes for the rest of the season.

– The Sixers were able to cruise to a comfortable win. Embiid did not have to play a single minute in the fourth quarter. Harden, the final starter in the game, put the finishing touch on the win by connecting on a 3-pointer after shucking Monte Morris off him.

Harden checked out of the game with 5:32 remaining. With the Sixers holding a comfortable lead, they were able to empty out the bench. Furkan Korkmaz and Jaden Springer got some run. Springer made a few impressive plays, dishing out a nice assist and recording two steals. Dewayne Dedmon made his Sixers debut a few weeks after being signed from the buyout market.