Nets vs. Sixers: The Big 3 Things to Watch in their NBA Playoffs Series
Brooklyn's first-round series tips off Saturday in Philadelphia
The Brooklyn Nets open up their first playoff series since 2015 on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. Check out the full schedule for the series and three big things to watch as the sixth-seeded Nets prepare to take on the third-seeded Sixers.
Game 1: Saturday, April 13 at Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m.
Game 2: Monday, April 15 at Philadelphia, 8:00 p.m.
Game 3: Thursday, April 18 at Brooklyn, 8:00 p.m.
Game 4: Saturday, April 20 at Brooklyn, 3:00 p.m.
Game 5: Tuesday, April 23 at Philadelphia, TBD*
Game 6: Thursday, April 25 at Brooklyn, TBD*
Game 7: Saturday, April 27 at Philadelphia, TBD*
NETS PUTTING UP POINTS
The Nets have excelled offensively against the Sixers, averaging 121.0 points in four games against Philadelphia vs. their average of 112.2 for the full season. Against Philadelphia, Brooklyn's offensive rating jumped from 108.8 to 117.2. The Nets shot 49.9 percent overall and 38.9 percent from 3-point range.
Like Brooklyn's offense in general, it starts with the guards. Spencer Dinwiddie has a pair of 30-point games against the Sixers, including a career-high 39 on Dec. 12. In four games vs. Philly, Dinwiddie averaged 23.8 points and shot 57.7 percent overall and 61.1 percent from 3-point range on 4.5 attempts per game. D'Angelo Russell scored 21.0 points with 7.3 assists and shot 47.4 percent against the Sixers.
Caris LeVert played in only two games against the Sixers this season, the first and last matchups, averaging 19.0 points. After returning in early February after a three-month injury absence, LeVert has rounded into form and averaged 16.0 points while shooting 48.9 percent overall and 45.2 percent from 3-point range over the final eight games.
"I think it's hard for teams, especially second unit teams, to keep both of us out of the lane at the same time," said LeVert of his backcourt pairing with Dinwiddie. "That's definitely tough on a defense to do because we're both attacking guards, guards who can make plays for ourselves and others. That's really tough for a defense, especially because you don't really have three lockdown guard defenders on the court all at once. Every night, one of us, myself, Spencer or D'Angelo, is going to have a matchup we can exploit."
DEALING WITH EMBIID
Philadelphia general manager Elton Brand said "it's possible" that center Joel Embiid will be unavailable when the playoffs begin on Saturday. Embiid has missed 15 games since the All-Star break, including five of the final seven. He's the NBA's No. 4 scorer and No. 2 rebounder and averaged 30.0 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting 60 percent in four games against the Nets this season.
When Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was asked earlier this week how the Nets would deal with Philadelphia's size — that mostly means Embiid, but also Tobias Harris — he said, "do the opposite." Going small won't be a primary option, but it's in the toolbox. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had two of his better games this season against the Sixers, and earlier this season Atkinson leaned into the size mismatch by playing the 6-foot-7 Hollis-Jefferson at center with Embiid and two other Sixers 6-foot-8 or above also on the floor. Jared Dudley, also 6-7, has been back in prominent role off the bench and a major contributor down the stretch, including some minutes at the 5 in small ball lineups as well.
"You limit his touches in certain areas," said Dudley. "Obviously, he gets to the free throw line. He’s kind of like a (James) Harden-esque at the center where he’s mastered being able to get to the free throw line using his rip through arm. You’re not going to fully stop him. There might be some games he doesn’t play well, but I think the last time when he had that 39 we didn’t take away anything. He made three 3-pointers, 16 free throws, and got dunks, so that’s something that can’t continue. If it’s fronting the post, if it’s not putting your hand in the cookie jar, there are certain things I think our bigs will looks at and that our guards and wings can do to help out a little bit more and make it just a little bit more difficult."
DEPTH VS. STARTERS
The Nets have the NBA's second-highest scoring second unit, averaging 47.8 points per game, while the Sixers are 27th with 31.7 points per game. Philadelphia has become more front-loaded as the season has gone on with trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris that brought star power to the starting lineup but cut into the team's depth. Since Feb. 1, the Sixers are 30th in bench scoring with 28.0 points per game over the final 30 games.
With 16.9 points per game, point guard Ben Simmons — also averaging 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists — is the lowest scoring Sixer starter in a group that combines to average 98.9 points per game. With Embiid's playing time limited over the second half of the season after Harris was acquired on Feb. 6, that starting group — Simmons, Butler, Harris, Embiid and J.J. Redick — has actually appeared in just 10 games together, but they're plus-75 in 161 minutes on the court, with an offensive rating of 119.0 and a net rating of 17.6. Philadelphia will stagger its starters to keep several of them on the floor at once. Don't expect to see a five-man bench unit playing together as you will with the Nets.
Brooklyn's starting lineup has been in flux throughout the year, with D'Angelo Russell, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen the constants, each starting every game they've played. Atkinson settled on his expected starting group for Saturday when he moved DeMarre Carroll into the starting lineup during the March road trip, with rookie Rodions Kurucs at the other forward spot.
So the second unit has shifted too, and coach Kenny Atkinson has gone deep, with 14 different players holding a regular rotation spot at some point during the season. Two of Brooklyn's top four scorers will come off the bench with guards Spencer Dinwiddie (16.8 ppg) and Caris LeVert (13.7). Veteran center Ed Davis led the Nets in rebounding (8.6) while playing 17.9 minutes per game, making him one of the most efficient board men in the league. A 61.6 shooting percentage speaks to Davis' efficiency and effectiveness as well.
"He’s huge," said Atkinson of Dinwiddie. "We need him to play well. He’s had success against them. His speed really gives them some issues. We’re looking for a really big series against them. I think Caris’ speed is important. I think Caris is kind of an X factor for us. I think he’s playing really well. I mean, really, really well. So, right time, right place. I think that’s something that could give us a necessary boost to maybe steal a game here or there."
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