The Brooklyn Nets have had one of the more tumultuous seasons in recent memory. They began the season with two All-NBA guys in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who were playing very strong basketball. Despite a formidable start that saw them near the top of the Eastern Conference, off the court turmoil and controversy proved too distracting to overcome. GM Sean Marks eventually dealt Irving to the Dallas Mavericks and Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns, initiating one of the more unique rebuilds the NBA has seen. Unique because the Nets still find themselves readying for the 2023 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nets essentially remade an entire roster that had one of the best records in the NBA. They might have lost two incredible players, but there was only so far they could drop in the standings. Not to mention, they still received a few NBA regulars in return who have given the Nets strong production.
Mikal Bridges was the key piece for Durant other than draft picks, and is averaging a career-high 26.1 points per game in Brooklyn. They also received point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and forward Dorian Finney-Smith in the Irving trade, both of whom have played very well as Nets. Not to mention, Cam Thomas continues to show superstar potential in his second year, as he has four 40-point totals despite only starting four games and averaging 16 minutes per outing. These four guys helped lead the Nets to a 45-37 record and sixth place in the east.
The Nets will be facing the third seed 76ers in the first-round, a team that finished 54-28 and was led by MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid. The 76ers have championship aspirations on their mind this season, but would be wise to not overlook this Nets team. In fact, there is reason to believe that the Nets could upset the 76ers in the first round. Two reasons in particular suggest that a Brooklyn upset is not as far-fetched as it seems. So, what are these two reasons?
Here are two reasons why the Brooklyn Nets will upset the Philadelphia 76ers in the first-round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
*Rosters via ESPN
Playoff James Harden
James Harden has had a highly decorated NBA career. He has been a scoring leader, an assists leader, an NBA Sixth Man of the Year, an NBA MVP, made it to multiple All-NBA Teams, and been to plenty of NBA Playoffs. Harden will certainly be a hall-of-famer one day. However, there is one thing that Harden has never proven wrong; he does not know how to win in the NBA Playoffs.
Harden has made it to the NBA Finals once, doing it with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012. Ten years later, and Harden is still scratching and clawing his way back. Despite all the accolades, that proverbial playoff performance that all legends possess has eluded him. Most of the time, he has underperformed in the playoffs, coming up short of an NBA Championship his entire career. In a series that the 76ers expect to win, it would not surprise NBA fans to see Harden underwhelm once again in the first-round.
Harden has changed his style of play since coming to Philadelphia, accepting his role as secondary to star center Embiid. However, this will undoubtedly change once the playoffs start, as greater intensity and attention to detail will be prioritized by the Nets onto Embiid. Harden will have to be a scorer like he used to be, and it will have to be at a consistent pace. The Nets will benefit from this, as if history has anything to say, Harden will not be the same player come the NBA Playoffs.
The Philadelphia Curse
Philadelphia has had a recent stretch of strong regular season play ending in heartbreak across all major league sports. It started with the Philadelphia Phillies last season, making a Cinderella run to the MLB World Series, only to lose to the Houston Astros. Then, the Philadelphia Eagles were arguably the best team in the NFL last season and rode that momentum to the Super Bowl. They met a buzzsaw in Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The 76ers will be the latest Philadelphia team to have all the intangibles, but fail to execute when the lights are bright.
There really is not much place for superstition in sports, as any game can truly produce any output due to an infinite amount of factors. However, if a team wears a Philadelphia uniform, there seems to be some sort of losing mojo currently attached to it. Embiid is going to be the most likely MVP and the 76ers have one of their most well-rounded rosters in the Doc Rivers era. Since they have such a credible chance at making it to the NBA Finals, it only makes sense that another Philadelphia season would end in heartbreak. It will come earlier than the other Philadelphia teams, as the 76ers will be upset in the first-round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs to the Brooklyn Nets.