By: Jon Balant
A lot is made of the Sixers and Nets splitting their 4 regular season games, but our loss at Brooklyn was prior to the Butler deal (Markelle Fultz played 25 minutes lol) and our loss in December at home Butler was injured and Korkmaz started. We’re a completely different team now, with or without Embiid.
Even If Embiid can’t go, I think Brown will turn this into a positive and try to get out and run. He’ll encourage Simmons to run and attack and try to open the game up early. Sixers led the league in first quarter points scored and I expect them to finish the first frame with roughly 33-35 points.
To counter this, and especially if Embiid is out, Brooklyn may open up in a 2-3 zone on defense. The Nets ran the most zone defensive sets in the NBA this season. They frequently come out in an extended 2-3 zone and try to limit penetration and force contested threes. This would be a costly mistake vs the Sixers, who have a plethora of shooters and don’t rely on dribble penetration. If Embiid doesn’t play, their spacing won’t be as great, but they have enough shooters to stretch the zone out and create open looks. Bown should consider slotting Simmons into the high post and get him the ball, turn and face and locate the open shooter before the Nets defenders can shift. If the Sixers are hitting their shots early, the Sixers should be able to jump out to an early double digit lead.
In their last game vs Brooklyn, they scored 123 points and controlled the game. Embiid played in these games, but JJ Reddick got a plethora of wide open looks, even when Embiid wasn’t on the floor. The Nets struggle to locate open shooters, and are better at defending on the ball as opposed to weakside defense when the ball is moving. It will be crucial that the Sixers move the ball quickly. Simmons will need be decisive with the ball at all times.
Last game, Rodions Kurucs guarded Ben Simmons. Kurucs is a pedestrian defender, and struggles against bigger players due to his frail 210 lb frame. Simmons needs to abuse him in the post. Kurucs also struggles with weakside/team defense and fighting through screens. He is a soft rookie Euro who brings a lot to the table on offense, but struggles on the other end of the floor. Simmons beat him off the ball on multiple backdoor cuts, leading to easy alley-oop finishes. He should also be able to drive and post up against him rather easily. The Sixers must attack and exploit Rodions Kurucs at all times.
It is imperative that Tobias Harris gets looks and is given the basketball early, and often. He tends to have big first quarters and then disappear. Without Embiid on the floor that is going to open roughly 19 field goal attempts per game. Harris should look to penetrate and shoot pull up jumpers and take advantage of his size. Expect Demarre Carroll to guard Harris. Carroll is a tough defender, but Harris as a size advantage over him. Harris only had 6 points in their game in Philly last March – that is unacceptable. Harris needs to score over 20 points in Game 1, and be aggressive offensively through 4 quarters.
Where the Sixers have struggled is defensively. They give up the most points per game via penetration, and their pick and roll defense has been atrocious. Butler is tasked with guarding D’Angelo Russell, which is not ideal for the guy you consider your “closer” to have tired legs from chasing around an All-Star combo guard like Russell all game. They need to be conscious of where Russell is on the floor at all times, even when he doesn’t have the ball. The Nets run a lot of high pick and roll screens off the ball for Joe Harris, and Reddick needs to fight through these and not let him get too many open looks.
Spencer Dinwiddie killed us in Philly back in December, going off for 39 points in the win for Brooklyn. He lost his starting spot after his injury later in the season, but still provides a spark and valuable production off the bench, along with Caris LeVert. We cannot take their 2nd unit lightly, and it’s important that Brown’s rotations don’t leave us vulnerable with too many of the starters out.
Vegas is overcompensating for the potential loss of Embiid, and a lot of tickets and money are coming in on Brooklyn. The line has dropped from open at 8 to now 5.5. 60% of wagered dollars have come in on the Nets as of Friday night. I also think this is a mistake. I have read a ton of articles and “experts” touting betting the Nets and game 1, taking Nets +1.5/+2 games, and even stabbing at their series price of +500 to upset us. People are attempting to capitalize on an injury that a) may not prevent Embiid from playing b) will not impact the game as much as people think.
All in all, I don’t expect the Nets to provide too much resistance in this series. They took next steps this season and have a bright future, but they don’t have enough to match the 76ers talent. It’s going to be a high scoring, fast paced series. The Nets should steal a game, possibly 2, but that will be the extent of it. A lot of this comes down to coaching, and Brown adjusting properly if Embiid doesn’t play. If the Sixers drop Game 1 it will be mainlyon Brett Brown. The blue print is here to beat this team, with or without Embiid.
Projected Defensive Assignments – Brooklyn
D’Angelo Russell – Jimmy Butler
Joe Harris – JJ Reddick
Demarre Carroll – Tobias Harris
Rodions Kurucs – Ben Simmons
Jarrett Allen – Joel Embiid/Starting Center
Game 1 Score prediction: Philadelphia 121, Brooklyn 113
1st Quarter Over 56.5 (3 units)
76ers 1st Quarter Team Total Over 29 (1 unit)
76ers -5.5 (2 units)
Will add player props tomorrow upon release
76ers win Series, 4-1 (Lose Game 3)
If Embiid sits multiple games: 76ers win 4-2 (Lose Games 2 and 4)