The Final Third

by Lauren Rosen

The 76ers’ (34-21) match-up with the Brooklyn Nets (25-28) marks the beginning of the final third of the regular season.

At Wednesday’s practice, the first for the team since returning from the All-Star break, Brett Brown touched on a few themes that will be key for the Sixers moving forward: chemistry, refining the rotation, and assimilating new faces into the group.

When it comes to chemistry, there certainly seemed to be a lot during All-Star weekend. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid sang each other’s praises in Chicago. From afar, Tobias Harris took notice.

“Those two are the guys that keep this thing moving. They have to really embrace each other, and have that respect for each other’s games. Their games are different, their games are different styles, but in a way, they both do compliment each other on the floor,” Harris said.

Looking to keep momentum rolling from the Sixers' three-game winning streak that led into the break, Harris remembers how impressive Simmons and Embiid were in the team’s win over LA on Feb. 11.

“When they’re out there, and they’re both dominant, like the Clipper game, you can just see - it’s like they played together since they were young kids,” Harris said.

Their head coach also likes what he sees.

“To be in Chicago, and to talk about one another in that environment, on different teams, it didn’t surprise me... I was thrilled to read what I read, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Brett Brown said.

Brown added that Embiid’s mindset is as strong as he’s seen it.

“I think the place that interests me the most, where I see his conditioning incrementally getting to an elite level, is his head. I think he is in a space that is excellent as it relates to his excitement seeing this final third,” Brown said.

As for the Sixers' rotation coming out of the break, Al Horford is expected to continue leading the team’s reserve unit. He was effective in that role in the Clippers win.

“I’m going out there and defensively setting the tone for our group, making sure that I’m helping people on the defensive end. And offensively, wherever I get my spots, make plays or be ready to shoot,” Horford said.

Also expected to play key roles in the rotation are Matisse Thybulle, who continues to lead all rookies in steals, and Furkan Korkmaz, who scored 30-plus twice in his last three outings.

Brett Brown says assimilating new faces Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, who joined the Sixers at the trade deadline, continues to be a priority as the postseason approaches.

“Alec needs to be put in a situation where he can score. I’m looking at him as instant offense type off the bench... His primary skillset is he can score, and we will ask him to do the same with us.”

After starting the year with the Warriors, Burks has had a breakout season, averaging 15.8 points per game and shooting 40.5% from the field.

Robinson, averaging 12.7 points per game this season and converting 39.5% of his 3-point attempts, scored 10 points and six points in his first two outings with the Sixers, playing 12 minutes in each appearance.

Thursday’s contest tips at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Opponent Outlook:

The Nets took a two-game winning streak into the break, winning four of their last five outings.

The Sixers lead their season series with the Nets, 2-1, after a pair of wins in January, five days apart. 

Tobias Harris rose to the occasion on Jan. 15, notching a 34-point, 10-rebound double-double. Ben Simmons scored 34 of his own (a career-high) on Jan. 20, along with 12 rebounds, 12 assists, five steals and two blocks.

Kyrie Irving (shoulder) is out indefinitely. In Irving’s absence, Spencer Dinwiddie leads his team in scoring, averaging 21.0 points per game.

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