Israeli Deni Avdija makes solid debut but Wizards falter late in season opening loss to 76ers

Dec 24, 2020 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards fell to the Philadelphia 76ers, 113-107, in the 2020-21 season opener for both sides. Israeli Deni Avdija who made his NBA debut and scored 7 points while pulling down 4 rebounds along the Wizards aren’t interested in moral victories this season, as they felt like this was one game that slipped away given a double-digit lead to start the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, Washington has shown that they will be in most games this season even against Eastern Conference contenders.

A game between star duos on both sides of the court, Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons all brought their A-game. Beal had 31 points and four steals that highlighted a strong defensive performance from the franchise player. Westbrook recorded the first triple-double in a Wizards debut with an impressive 21 points (on 9-for-22 shooting), 15 assists, and 11 rebounds. Embiid had 29 points and 14 rebounds and Washington had no answer for the big man in the fourth quarter when Embiid had 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Simmons finished with a respectable 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists.

As will be the case for the Wizards throughout much of the season, defense will determine the outcome of games. Washington held Philadelphia scoreless for nearly the first six minutes of the second half to extend a one-point halftime lead into a dozen. Then in the fourth quarter, the Wizards allowed an inexcusable 40 points. A key breakdown included Russell Westbrook and Thomas Bryant both worrying about Embiid on the perimeter (and rightfully so given how hot he got) leaving Ben Simmons under the basket for an easy dunk to put the 76ers up 109-105 with 21.7 seconds left. That was the ball game.

“Winning time, last four minutes of the game, we really got to lock in and be in tune with what’s going on on both ends of the floor,” Beal explained about Washington squandering a 99-95 lead with less than four minutes to play. “Miscommunication, we gave up two easy dunks at the rim.”

Turnovers were also an area that bit Washington with 20 miscues that turned into 24 points for Philadelphia. Beal and Westbrook were both culpable for six each, but the former was not overly concerned with it as Beal said a few slipped out of his and Westbrook’s hands. Those are easy things to clean up, but for the time being, limited the Wizards’ ability to simply outscore teams when their defense begins to falter as it did on Wednesday night.

Officially named the starting small forward by Scott Brooks pregame, Deni Avdija made his NBA debut. In 28 minutes of play, Avdija knocked down both of his shots from the field, both three-pointers, and went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line for seven points. Nothing overly flashy, but he played strong and fundamental basketball. “For me to go out there and play with my team and compete, it’s a dream come true. I don’t have any words to explain how much I worked hard for this,” Avdija said post-game.

“I thought he was fantastic,” Brooks assessed. “I’ve been there, long time ago, first game. No matter what he tells you, no matter what he told me, I know there are some butterflies. Those are good. He cares, he’s passionate, he wants to do well. I thought he played well. Can he get some more opportunities offensively, that’s all going to come around. We’re gonna have to learn what he can do as the season goes on and he’ll learn how we do things. He makes winning basketball plays and right now that’s all I care about. You making winning basketball plays, the offense and the game will reward you and that’s what he does and that’s what he’s about.”

The Wizards will return to Washington for practice on Thursday as they will shift their focus to the Orlando Magic who will play back-to-back games at Capital One Arena this weekend.

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