The Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers will face off against each other in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The division rivals split the season series 2-2 with each team winning on the other’s courts. Although the Sixers are favored to win the series, the Nets are no pushover team and do have the ability to cause an upset. Here are three key areas to watch for in this series.
The strength of this Nets team comes from their guard position. A lot of the offense relies heavily on the scoring ability of D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris. What’s special about each of them is that they each possess a different style of scoring the basketball. D’Angelo Russell is an all-around scorer. He can score from just about anywhere on the court and can really be a problem once he hits a few three-pointers in a row.
Russell has scored 20 points in a quarter on multiple occasions this year including his monster 27 point quarter against the Kings. Dinwiddie isn’t as adept at breaking a defender down one-on-one but what he does possess is a lightning quick first step. More often than not he’s beating his man to the hole for either a bucket or a foul.
Then theres are the shooting guards, starting with Joe Harris the sharpshooter. Harris, the reigning 3-point contest winner is most comparable to Kyle Korver with his quick release and ability to get open. In fact, Harris led the league in 3-point shooting percentage. He is also very adept at finishing at the rim.
Finally, there’s Caris LeVert who has shown great strides as of late. After returning from injury LeVert seemed to struggle to find his groove but has come on as of late. During the final 5 games of the season, he averaged 15.8 ppg and 4.6 apg. If the Nets are going to have a chance in this series they’re going to need their guards performing at peak efficiency.
Sixers Starting 5
The Philadelphia 76ers have arguably the best starting lineup in the NBA besides the Golden State Warriors. The combination of Redick, Simmons, Embiid, Butler, and Harris. Not enough credit has been given to Sixers GM Elton Brand in trading for two all-star caliber players in Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler.
Ironically both Butler and Harris have been tied to Brooklyn as possible candidates the team will go after in the offseason. Saying the Sixers’ starting unit has firepower is probably an understatement. All 5 of them average over 16 points per game and over 30 minutes per game.
Simmons, Harris, and Embiid average the most on the team with Harris averaging the most at 35 mpg. A lot of this has to do with the fact Philadelphia doesn’t have a strong bench. Usually coach Brett Brown keeps at least one starter on the court at all times.
Just recently word came out about the health status of Joel Embiid. The Sixers all-star big man is dealing with knee soreness and his status for game 1 is in question. He is expected to play in the series but the severity of the knee is still unknown. If Embiid is out for an extended amount of time the Sixers would lose a huge advantage at the center position.
Even with Embiid out, however, the Sixers starting unit is still a handful. The Sixers size at other positions is where they still have the advantage. The Nets can’t focus on shutting down one particular guy because they all pose a threat offensively. As good as the Nets starting unit is, they certainly aren’t the offensive juggernaut that Philadelphia’s is.
Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has been praised for the work he’s done this season with his team. The Nets had a 14 win increase from last season. This is a big reason why Atkinson is in talks for Coach of the Year. Although this will be Atkinson’s first playoffs as a head coach he’s had experience of what the playoffs are like, being an assistant with the Hawks under Mike Budenholzer a few years ago.
However, being the head guy is a whole different experience. And the ability to make adjustments not only for the game but for the rest of the series will be the determining factor. Brett Brown knows that all too well. Last season was his first time in the playoffs with a young Sixers squad. After winning the first series against the Heat, Philadelphia would eventually lose to the Celtics in the semi-finals. Brown took a lot of slack for that series loss as personnel decisions down the stretch of the games were a big reason why they lost.
Atkinson likes to mess with rotations and usually uses a good amount of his bench. This is because of the depth of their roster. Brown likes to keep his rotations tight and will most likely only run an 8 man rotation. Because of the style of play both coaches use this should be a high scoring series.
The real mark for the coaches is who can make the better defensive adjustments. For Brown, he’s got to find a way to quell the Nets 3 point barrage. And for Atkinson, the periodic use of his zone to counter the advantage Philly has inside.