Wall leads Wizards to opening win over 76ers
WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards’ season-opening win over the Philadelphia 76ers represented a rare scenario where both teams were smiling postgame.
The Eastern Conference-contending Wizards walked off the court with the victory. The 76ers’ triumph came in having their starry young core on the court.
John Wall scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half, Bradley Beal had 25 and the Wizards started their 2017-18 season with a 120-115 win over the 76ers on Wednesday night.
Coming off a 49-win season and finishing one game shy of the Eastern Conference finals, the Wizards couldn’t fend off Joel Embiid and the youthful 76ers until the final seconds.
The loss didn’t damper the NBA debuts for the most recent No. 1 overall selections in the NBA Draft, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
Washington led 113-106 with 3:35 remaining on Marcin Gortat’s layup, but Philadelphia pulled within 115-113 on two Simmons free throws with 1:44 left.
The 76ers twice had possession with a chance to take the lead but committed turnovers each time, including Robert Covington’s with 20 seconds remaining. The Wizards hit five of six free throws in the final seconds.
“No matter if they’re a young team or not, those are games you kind of want to take away from them and don’t give them any confidence,” Wall said of the 76ers, who last made the playoffs in 2012. “They gave us a great test.”
Covington had 29 points and sank 7 of 11 3-pointers, but the headliners were his teammates.
Simmons, the top pick in 2016, finished with 18 points. The point forward missed the 2016-17 campaign with a foot injury.
“I mean, how about Ben Simmons’ first game in the NBA?” Brown exclaimed. “I feel that his first game was really exceptional — really, really exceptional.”
Simmons also had 10 rebounds and five assists.
“I felt like I was playing (a video game), honestly,” a wide-eyed Simmons said. “To see Embiid out there ... I’m like, ‘Man, I’m actually here.’ It was fun.”
Fultz, who hails from the D.C. area suburbs, had 10 points off the bench. Selected first overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fultz battled shoulder and knee injuries during the preseason.
Embiid had 18 points, 13 rebounds and one block in 27 minutes. He was only expected to play around 16 minutes as Philadelphia planned on limiting its injury-prone big man’s minutes.
“The rigid rote number — whatever, pick a number, whatever number you want — it’s a range and it’s a more of a plan that we have this year than a restriction,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.
Leg injuries sidelined Embiid, who signed a $148 million contract extension earlier this month, to 31 games in his first three seasons.
“We got to stop calling that ‘minute restrictions,’” Embiid said. “I think the plan is to just get out there, play, see how I feel.”
Gortat had 16 points and 17 rebounds. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jodie Meeks each scored 14 points off the bench for Washington, which opened at home for the first time since 2011.
“The most important thing is we got a win,” said Gortat, who had 10 points in the fourth quarter. “(The 76ers) start collecting that experience and they become a very good team. It’s not going to be that easy like it used to be.”
Wall shot a dismal 10 of 28 from the field, but his attacking drives began paying off in the third quarter. He scored 13 points in the quarter as the Wizards outscored the 76ers 34-23 for a 90-82 lead. Two of his 10 baskets were thunderous left-handed dunks.
“I was telling my coaches I can’t believe he just did that,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said of Wall’s high-flying moves. “Those are things that point guards don’t do.”
Last season, the Wizards opened the season with sluggish 2-8 record.
But Washington returns the core of the team that fell to Boston in an intense seven-game series, though starting power forward Markieff Morris (sports hernia surgery) is expected to miss the opening 3-to-4 weeks of the season.
Jason Smith, Morris’ replacement in the starting lineup, suffered a right shoulder injury in the first half and did not return.
NOTES: Washington hasn’t won at least 49 games in back-to-back seasons since 1968-69 and 1969-70. ... The 76ers have dropped four season openers in a row. ... Philadelphia won the season series 2-1, though Washington snagged the lone home game. ... Washington hosts the Detroit Pistons on Friday before embarking on a four-game Western Conference road trip. ... Boston visits Philadelphia on Friday. The 76ers selected G Markelle Fultz after acquiring the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft from the Celtics in June. Boston used the No. 3 pick on F Jayson Tatum.