Westbrook debuts for Wizards in Rivers’ first game for 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards are embracing something new as the regular season begins Wednesday.
The visiting Wizards unveil their newest addition, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook, who was acquired from the Houston Rockets in exchange for John Wall in the offseason.
Westbrook will team with All-Star Bradley Beal in a formidable backcourt. Westbrook and James Harden struggled to mesh with the Rockets.
“Obviously, I’m not the easiest guy to understand, whatever, watch play, whatever people may think,” said Westbrook, a nine-time All-Star. “A lot of times, the things that are made up, people don’t actually know me to be able to say anything about me or what I’m about or what I believe in.”
The Wizards will advance as far as Westbrook and Beal carry them this season. The 27-year-old Beal averaged a career-high 30.5 points per game last season.
Beal said that he will embrace the pairing with Westbrook, especially if it leads to more victories.
“I’m not going to judge Russ on his previous relationships with guys on other teams,” Beal said. “I want to be able to put my foot in his shoes and be in the moment. I want to experience these things for myself.”
Washington finished last season at 25-47 with only nine road victories. With Westbrook, Beal and other key additions such as Robin Lopez and first-round draft pick Deni Avdija, the Wizards are expected to be much improved.
“We want to compete every night,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ve added some really good players. We’ve added some toughness, we’ve added some size, we signed back one of the best shooters in the world in (Davis) Bertans.”
The 76ers will play their first game under head coach Doc Rivers, who was hired in the offseason to replace Brett Brown.
Rivers inherits a team with a young All-Star tandem in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. But the Sixers have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2001.
Simmons and Embiid have been oft-criticized for their flaws — Simmons for his unwillingness to shoot and Embiid for his perceived lack of conditioning and penchant for playing too much on the perimeter.
“My offenses have always been really good,” said Rivers, who coached Boston to an NBA championship in 2008. “And if you ask my players, you rarely hear them tell you, ‘Man, he’s yelling at me about shot selection.’ My job is to teach guys their shots and once they learn their shots, each individual guy will learn to play through that.”
The Sixers, who were swept by the Celtics in the first round of last season’s playoffs, bolstered their bench with more shooters, notably Seth Curry and Danny Green. They also signed 17-year veteran Dwight Howard to backup Embiid.
Philadelphia made only 11.6 shots from beyond the arc per game last season.
“You got two guys Ben and Joel who draw a lot of attention to score in the paint and are willing passers and are unselfish,” said Curry, a career 44.3-percent shooter on treys. “So, I can complement those guys really well, spread the floor and make plays without the ball and with the ball and bring a different element to the team.”