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3 things Nets must do to earn bounce-back victory over Sixers

Nets, Sixers, Nets keys Sixers

The Brooklyn Nets have a chance to earn a bounce-back victory in Philadelphia against the 76ers on Friday. After dealing with a whirlwind training camp and preseason dominated by the Kyrie Irving situation, the Nets got back to hoops on Tuesday. But the defending champs, the Milwaukee Bucks, had little trouble securing a win. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company dropped 127 on Steve Nash’s crew. You can be sure tweaking the defense is top of mind for Nash ahead of the league’s two biggest dramas squaring off.

Here are three things the Nets must do to earn a big victory over the Sixers on Friday.

3 keys for Nets vs. Sixers

3) Make Joel Embiid a passer

One of the game’s most unstoppable forces is Sixers star Joel Embiid. When Embiid gets cooking he can relegate one of your top frontcourt players to the bench with foul trouble while piling up the free throws, where he connects on better than 80 percent.

The Nets simply don’t have the personnel to guard him one-on-one, but perhaps that makes their strategy more clear: force The Process to beat you as a passer. Indeed, Embiid has struggled making reads out of the post during his career.

Embiid had 21 turnovers in the final three contests against the Atlanta Hawks during last season’s second-round upset. The Nets do not have the luxury of leaning on a player like Hawks stalwart Clint Capela. But Blake Griffin might be able to provide a bit of resistance as a strong body while the team sends doubles from all angles, forcing Embiid to make quick decisions from the block.

Leaving open the skip pass in the corner one time and then doubling off the cutter the next may at least force Embiid to hesitate. By making Embiid pick up the ball and kick it out to a shooter, you increase the chances he makes enough mistakes to reduce his efficiency.

Here are some ways the Hawks coaxed Embiid into poor decisions during the playoffs despite not having a ton of top-tier defenders:

2) Punish the Sixers’ smaller wings

It seems like a safe bet that Ben Simmons will not be in the lineup.

That changes the entire composition of the Sixers’ defense. Instead of having the luxury of perhaps the game’s best perimeter defender to (possibly) slow down James Harden or Kevin Durant, Doc Rivers will rely on players like Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle.

Green is terrific off the ball, but he struggles a bit on the ball. The three-time champion can also struggle to chase a player around screens. If Green wins the unenviable task of guarding Harden or Kevin Durant, the team should go right at him. If they opt to put him on Joe Harris, they should run the sharpshooter through a bevy of screens.

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Thybulle is a game-wrecker in the passing lanes, but as a one-on-one defender struggles against the game’s best. It’s better to target the young wing in isolation. His tendency as a gambler can lead him to pick up cheap fouls. No one in the league is better at exploiting those tendencies than Harden.

If either of Green or Thybulle winds up in foul trouble, the seas might just part for Brooklyn. The Sixers’ wing defense really falls off a cliff after those two. Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey, and Furkan Korkmaz simply won’t provide enough resistance for the Nets’ top guns. The Nets should feast from the perimeter. Philly has no answer for either KD or Harden.

1) The 1-5 pick-and-roll

No matter how well the Nets execute point No. 3 above, chances are Embiid is going to hurt them. If he makes the simple reads and the Sixers’ shooters get hot, it could be a long night for Brooklyn. But another way to possibly slow down Embiid is to make him play defense way out on the perimeter.

Without Simmons in the lineup during the bubble, Boston had success punishing Philadelphia for playing drop coverage:

For obvious reasons, the Sixers want Embiid patrolling the paint defensively where he can alter shots and force tough floaters. But by putting him in a ton of high screen action, Brooklyn may lure him away from the paint while also sapping some of his energy.

Under Doc Rivers, Embiid has been a bit more aggressive in switching. He doesn’t switch onto guards often, but he will hedge a bit and then recover. That takes a big effort and sometimes results in Embiid playing 20 feet from the cup.

Coach Steve Nash can attack in two ways. One, he can call Harden-Nicolas Claxton pick-and-rolls, which represent a lob threat. If Embiid helps too much on The Beard, there may be no weak-side help to prevent a lob.

Below, Trae Young makes the type of read we know Harden can make in his sleep:

When Blake Griffin is in the game, Embiid may be happy to leave Griffin for some wide-open 3s. Pick your poison.

By employing a combination of double teams against Embiid, attacking Philly’s smaller wings, and putting Embiid into loads of high-screen-and-rolls, the Nets may grab that bounce-back victory they’re looking to get.