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Wizards must toss reactionary instincts against trash-talking savant Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid’s skyward trend suggests a future NBA Most Valuable Player. The Philadelphia 76ers center is now arguably the league’s preeminent trash talker, capable of melting minds on the court.

That’s a potential problem for a Washington Wizards team struggling to maintain in-game focus while earning technical fouls by the bushel.

The Dwight Howard-less Wizards (8-13) and 76ers (15-8) meet for the first time this season Friday at Wells Fargo Center. It’s the second consecutive game Washington must tangle with an All-NBA caliber big man.

For all of Anthony Davis’ otherworldly skills, which were showcased in New Orleans’ 125-104 rout Wednesday night, he cannot compare with Embiid’ verbal warfare. 

Few can — some try. That’s often a win right away for the 24-year-old with a deadly all-court game and all-world gamesmanship. 

Embiid, who ranks third in the NBA in scoring and rebounding this season, explained his verbal approach to The Athletic earlier this season.

“It’s fun. One thing when I started playing in the league, I saw that a lot of guys are friendly. It’s OK to be friendly, especially off the court. But on the court, I want to dominate,” the 7-footer said. “I don’t really care about the friendships on the court. I got my friends. I got my family, which I’m close to. I got a couple of friends that I’m always around. I don’t do anything. I don’t need to hang out with a lot of people.

“So me always talking trash … nowadays the league is kind of soft. I’m trying to dominate, and if you dominate, you’re going to be hated because you’re going to talk so much stuff.”

Bradley Beal is fond of Embiid. They have a relationship through their mutual basketball skills trainer, Drew Hanlen.

“Jo-Jo is my boy,” Beal said last season. Any kinship ends when they walk onto the court, which is around the time the Wizards All-Star guard knows he and his teammates will hear plenty from Philadelphia’s leading man.

“When [Embiid] plays us, we’re going to try to shut him down as best as we can,” Beal said last season. “We aren’t trying to hear none of that talking, and I’m gonna let him know about it, too.”

That approach for Washington has carried into this season almost regardless of the opponent.

The Wizards were among the league leaders in technicals last season. They are headed for a repeat even after pushing a tale of less talk during training camp. 

Markieff Morris and Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson went nose to nose in the preseason. John Wall and another New York newbie, Allonzo Trier received technicals for their mutual jawing in Washington’s Nov. 4 win. Only Morris was tagged with a tech for whatever magic words he uttered to Houston forward James Ennis in the Wizards’ overtime win Monday night

No offense to Robinson, Trier or Ennis, but as NBA players and trash talkers, they don’t compare to Embiid. Few do. He is averaging 28.0 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks this season.

Embiid worked the last Wizards in four games last season, averaging 23.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. The teams split the season series, but the 76ers held significant leads in two home wins. 

No offense to Washington’s active players, but it’s hard gauging which option pushes Embiid on either end of the court.

Washington had a proven starting center in Marcin Gortat last season. Second-year player Thomas Bryant likely makes his sixth consecutive start in place of Howard, who is away from the team seeking another medical opinion for his lingering glute soreness.

Considering Bryant’s inexperience, Morris and Jeff Green probably receive more minutes defending Embiid despite a size mismatch.

Embiid’s chewed up far bigger and more talented players this season. His battles with Detroit’s Andre Drummond became must-watch, listen and read fare. Though the Pistons won the Oct. 23 home matchup 123-122 in overtime, Embiid finished with 33 points.

Drummond’s night ended earlier than desired as he was ejected following a second technical foul late in regulation. 

“I think I own a lot of real estate in his head,” Embiid told reporters. “We lost, so I’m not supposed to talk trash, but [Drummond] knows damn well that he can’t guard me.

Drummond responded via Twitter with “#Emmyaward winning actor,” claiming an Embiid flop led to the second technical. Embiid more than noticed the shot.

When the teams met 11 days later in Philadelphia, the 76ers center dominated the rematch. Embiid had 39 points and 17 rebounds in Philadelphia’s win. Drummond had eight and nine in 21 ineffective minutes.

“He’s a fun matchup,” Embiid said of Drummond after the 109-99 victory. “I feel like I dominate every game, especially against him.”

Embiid dominates most opponents when it comes to talking junk. Regardless of the rants, the Wizards must keep their focus on basketball. The challenge Friday is genuine; Philadelphia is 6-1 over its last seven games. Otherwise, the Wizards may lose a game and cede real estate in their collective heads to an NBA star capable of dominating opponents in numerous ways.

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