The Battle of Eastern Conference Contenders: Sixers-Nets Preview
After a very bad loss against the Portland Trailblazers skeleton team, the Philadelphia 76ers are back in action tonight vs the Brooklyn Nets. The Sixers 121-105 loss to the Blazers snapped a four game winning-streak but the team still sits atop of the Eastern Conference at 16-7. They are currently 1.5 games ahead of the Bucks and 2.5 games up on tonight’s opponent, the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets won their only meeting this year against the Sixers 122-109 on January 7th.
The Nets are coming to Philadelphia on the second night of a back-to-back in which they watched Kevin Durant get pulled out of the lineup in the pregame and then again in the third quarter for contact-tracing protocols. Durant will miss tonight’s game and could possibly be lost for multiple games for the second time in as many months.
As we all know, regardless of who’s on the court, the Nets are widely considered Eastern Conference contenders and acquired James Harden earlier this season in a blockbuster trade that all Sixers fans should be extremely happy that they were not involved in.
Nets Terrible Defense
The Nets are 7-2 with James Harden in the lineup. No matter who’s playing, their defense stinks regardless. They entered last night’s matchup against the Raptors ranked 26th in defensive rating. They allow 113 points per 100 possessions. The team as a whole is very erratic. One night, the Nets will lose to the Wizards 149-146 and then beat the Clippers 124-120. The Sixers should be able to score points tonight at a very high rate, but they are going to need some help outside of Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris in order to walk away with a victory.
There’s something that’s clearly off with Seth Curry. Since returning to the lineup after testing positive for COVID-19, it’s not hard to see that something isn’t quite right with Seth Curry. He’s averaged 7.4 points on 38.6 percent shooting. The most glaring drop off has been his perimeter shooting which has fallen from an elite 59.5% to 29.2% in eight games since returning. With Curry struggling, it has hurt the Sixers’ ability to execute on offense and space the floor.
If Curry isn’t performing, the Sixers desperately need their bench players to play well. Shake Milton entered last night’s game averaging a dismal 9.7 points on 35.8 shooting from the floor. Milton is shooting a horrendous 13.3% from three point range over his last seven games. Fellow bench guard Tyrese Maxey entered the game averaging 5.3 points while shooting just 40% shooting over his previous eight games.
Simmons did not play last game against the Blazers due to calf tightness. The Sixers are 0-3 without Ben Simmons in the lineup and last game it could not be more evident on why Ben Simmons is so important to this Sixers team. The pace of play, floor spacing, and defense that Simmons provides the Sixers is irreplaceable. I would have to imagine that Ben Simmons had this game circled on his calendar with James Harden coming to town.
Ben Simmons has played extremely well lately after starting the season relatively slow offensively. Simmons led the Embiid-less 76ers to a 20+ point comeback against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 21 points on 9/12 shooting. His defense has been incredible. After missing a game, Simmons needs to come out tonight and immediately be aggressive on both sides of the court. Too many times we have witnessed Simmons start slow in games before coming to form in the second half. A wire-to-wire performance from Simmons tonight against James Harden in the Nets would be incredible to witness and more importantly, send social media into an absolute frenzy.
Break out your measuring sticks. It’s time to see how the Sixers handle their first real Eastern Conference test. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s the fact that the Sixers have notoriously played up to their competition. The team is well aware how important these types of games are, even more so when they lose their previous game to a poor team. The Sixers are -3 and I’m 100% taking them. There’s no one in the world that can stop Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will be attacking from the jump, propelling the Sixers to a 127-119 victory tonight.
Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY