The Nets are in South Philly tonight with first place in the Eastern Conference on the line vs the Sixers
Tonight the Philadelphia 76ers begin their most crucial stretch of the 2021 NBA season. The Sixers will play five of their next six games against title contenders, including the Clippers, Suns, and Bucks. Before we get ahead of ourselves, the primary focus is tonight as the Brooklyn Nets are in South Philadelphia with first place in the Eastern Conference on the line.
Brooklyn, as always, will be shorthanded during tonight’s game. The Nets will be without James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and LaMarcus Aldridge are all listed as questionable. For a team looking to make a title push, the Nets’ big three have played just seven games together, and the entire group, including Blake Griffin and Aldridge, haven’t played once. That’s something that shouldn’t concern the Sixers at all. They can only control their own destiny and need to take the court tonight and punch the Brooklyn Nets in the mouth and seize first place in the East. With that in mind, here is what to watch during tonight’s game.
I hate to use terminology from the Brett Brown era, however Brooklyn’s defense this season has been an absolute joke this season. The Nets are ranked 25th in defensive rating with 112.8 compared to the Sixers, who rank second in the NBA at 106.4. The focus for the Nets has clearly been on the other end of the court, which is evident with the acquisition of James Harden and moving defensive big man Jarrett Allen. Joel Embiid, much like he did against the Dallas Mavericks, should be able to dominate the paint tonight while playing stout defense hand-in-hand with Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris.
Defense will be the key to the game. If the Sixers can slow down the Nets’ high powered offense, the game will lean in their favor. Without James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving, the Sixers should be able to easily match up with the Nets on defense and slice up the Nets up and down the court on offense.
TEST THE NEW GUYS
The basketball world was in absolute shambles when the Nets brought in the corpses of both Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge during the buyout market. Both players combined have averaged 21 points and nine rebounds during their short tenure in Brooklyn so far and the Nets brought in the duo to attempt to slow down Joel Embiid.
Aldridge might do okay for a big with his size, but neither big men should be an issue for the MVP candidate. Despite that, Philly will need to size out this matchup to get an idea of what to expect in the playoffs. Outside of them, Brooklyn’s other option is Nic Claxton, who isn’t any better than the two players I mentioned before him.
BEN SIMMONS STATEMENT GAME
Last night Ben Simmons talked some trash on fellow Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert. Gobert is currently ranked number one in the official NBA.com DPOY Rankings. However, Simmons was quick to note that when he played Utah, Gobert guarded him and Simmons put up a career high 42 points. We all know how elite Ben Simmons can be on defense. Tonight, he can make his case under the national spotlight against Kevin Durant.
Over 21 games this season, KD is averaging 28 points per game on an insane 53 percent from the field. Philly can still win with Durant getting his points, but it’s time Ben Simmons puts the league on notice when it comes to his defensive capabilities and shut Durant down like he’s done all season long to other All-Star caliber players in the NBA.
This game is a must-win for Philadelphia. Without all their star players, there is no reason that the Sixers won’t hang with the Nets. The entire roster has to be pumped up for this one and wanting to prove to everyone they are worthy of coming out of the Eastern Conference in a little over a month.
|Brooklyn Nets||+6.5 (-106)||+225||o228 (-108)|
|Philadelphia 76ers||-6.5 (-114)||-275||u228 (-112)|
Looking at tonight’s odds, the fact that the game is a -6.5 point spread tells me that we will see Kevin Durant in the Nets’ lineup tonight. If the Nets were without Durant, Irving, and Harden, there’s no way Vegas would have this game’s spread in single digits.
The Sixers have a history of playing up to competition. The Bucks on Christmas Day last year, the Clippers before the All-Star break last year, and the Lakers at home this year all standout as big wins against elite NBA teams. Tonight will be no different. The Sixers will win this game and retake sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Picks: Sixers -6.5 and o228
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports