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Nets vs. Sixers: Brooklyn's First-Place Showdown in Philadelphia

The Brooklyn Nets took care of business on Tuesday with a win in Minnesota, and now they’ll head to Philadelphia tied with the 76ers for first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of their Wednesday night game.

The Nets and Sixers are both 37-17 after splitting their first two meetings of the season. On Jan. 7, before Brooklyn traded for James Harden, the Nets were without both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but still beat the Sixers 122-109. Those shorthanded wins have been a defining part of Brooklyn’s season so far. They registered another one of them on Tuesday with Irving, Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge all out.

“There’s just been so much uncertainty over the course of the season where guys know that they’re going to have an opportunity and it’s a chance for you to come in and help out, and we also know that long-term, though, too, you might get yourself into a series in the playoffs where you’re gonna ask something of the 12th, 13th guy on the roster,” said Joe Harris, “and we need everybody to have confidence in one another to be able to come in and play there when their number is called.”

On Feb. 6, the Sixers won 124-108 with Harden available for Brooklyn but both Irving and Durant out. Joel Embiid had 33 points and nine rebounds for Philadelphia, and Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons both had double-doubles.

That means the third and final meeting of the season could determine the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, whether the final standings come down to a one-game difference or a tie that leaves Wednesday’s winner with the tie-breaker.

“I don’t think we’ll blow it out of proportion,” said Harris. “Obviously, we know the implications of the game in terms of the standings, but there’s still a lot of games left in the season regardless of the outcome tomorrow. But it’s just another test, another opportunity to get better.”

WHO’S IN AGAINST PHILLY?

When the postponed and rescheduled game in Minnesota turned Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia into the second-half of a back-to-back, it added another layer to wondering who will be available for Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving and LaMarcus Aldridge did not travel to Minnesota due to a personal matter/family reasons for Irving and illness for Aldridge. Immediately following Tuesday’s game, Nets head coach Steve Nash said their status for Wednesday’s game was still to be determined, and the same went for Chris Chiozza, who started in Minnesota but did not return after halftime due to a hand injury.

Nash has previously said he prefers not to play Blake Griffin in both games of a back-to-back, and Griffin played 24 minutes against the Wolves.

Then there’s Kevin Durant, who was in his third game back after missing nearly two months with a hamstring strain. As in Saturday’s loss to the Lakers, Nash kept Durant on the court deep into a one-sided game as part of the program to build up his minutes on the court.

“It’s a tricky balance because he needs to play a certain amount of minutes for his benefit,” said Nash. “At the same time, when the game is that out of hand, you’re caught like, do we want to risk him being out there at this point in the game. In an ideal world he’d play close to 30 minutes, but at the same time, he’s out there at the end of the game in meaningless minutes you want to be careful as well. We’re trying to find that balance. At least he had a good game and got some minutes in his legs.”

Nash said before the game that the postponement “does change everything for us” in terms of creating a back-to-back, and said afterwards that Durant would be assessed on Wednesday morning.

“I want to play just to get back in the swing of things more so than like pinpoint that matchup,” said Durant. “You know what I'm saying? I think for us we want to get everybody healthy and acclimated to what we're doing out there and I think that's just as important as circling the calendar for Philly. They're a great team, well-coached and I'm sure a team we're going to run into here soon but for us at this point we want to continue to fine tune what we do get better at the things that make us who we are and we'll see what happens down the line.”

NASH WOULD PASS ON PLAYING

Hall of Fame point guard Bob Cousy was retired for six full seasons and coaching the Cincinnati Royals when he activated himself and played seven games during the 1969-70 season.

The Nets have been a little shorthanded for point guards the last few days, but even if player-coaches were still allowed in the NBA, no thank you, said Steve Nash.

“I’d be great for four or five minutes and then the wheels would fly off all over the gym,” said Nash, “so I think we’ll save the world that horror show.”

ANOTHER TOP-5 FOR HARRIS

With four 3-pointers made against Minnesota on Tuesday, Joe Harris has 170 3-pointers made this season, passing Deron Williams and moving into fifth place on the franchise’s single-season record list.

Who’s next for Harris to pass? Well, there’s Joe Harris from 2019-20 with 172 3-pointers and Joe Harris from 2018-19 with 183 3-pointers. Harris now owns three of the top five single-season 3-point totals in franchise history. To get past anybody else, Harris will have to reach No. 2 Allen Crabbe, who had 201 3-pointers in 2017-18. That gives Harris 18 games to make 32 3-pointers. He’s averaging 3.2 3-pointers per game, a rate that would give him 227 for the season, seven shy of D’Angelo Russell’s franchise record.

STARTING LOOKS

With their first starts of the season, Nic Claxton and Chris Chiozza became the 17th and 18th different players to start a game for the Nets this season in Brooklyn’s 28th starting lineup of the year.

Chiozza had five assists in 14 minutes, all in the first half before leaving the game with a hand injury. Claxton had eight rebounds in his first career start, making 3-of-4 shots and playing 21 minutes.

“Nic has been great for us whether he’s in a starting position like tonight or the minutes that he has coming off the bench,” said Joe Harris. “I think his ability just to mix things up defensively, we’re able to switch things up one through five when he’s out there, it changes the game for us a little bit, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He does a good job contesting stuff, coming back, rebounding, but then he’s also long, active enough to guard guards.”

ABOUT THE 76ERS

The Sixers have the No. 2 defensive rating in the NBA (107.0) and are fourth in opponent field goal percentage allowed (45.2) and effective field goal percentage allowed (51.9) as well as second in steals (8.9) and blocks (6.3). Philadelphia is fifth in rebounds per game (46.0) and fourth in rebounding percentage (51.9), fourth in defensive rebounds per game (35.9) and seventh in defensive rebounding percentage (74.9). The Sixers are ninth in field goal percentage (47.6) and 14th in offensive rating (112.3). Center Joel Embiid leads Philadelphia with 29.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, plus 3.1 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.1 steals. Forward Tobias Harris averages 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds and Ben Simmons averages 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. Embiid, Harris, and Simmons all shoot better than 50 percent.