Given the dearth of Eastern Conference teams that have won games consistently during the 2020-21 campaign, Philadelphia 76ers fans and pundits alike have largely focused on two squads as potential roadblocks in Philly’s title pursuit. Namely, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.
The Nets in particular have been namechecked as a potential problem, which stands to reason given their super-team status and proximity to the Sixers in the standings.
That said, it was the Sixers that won the regular-season series between the clubs, taking two of three games from the Nets. And despite Brooklyn’s incredible firepower on offense, where James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have run amok, there is reason to believe that Philly could have an edge in a postseason matchup.
On Friday, a pair of NBA insiders published their discussion about the Nets’ own title chase. In their estimation, the Sixers’ man in the middle could be the linchpin in bringing down Brooklyn and potentially punching his team’s ticket to the 2021 NBA Finals.
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The Athletic: Joel Embiid Could Dominate the Nets
In breaking down the Nets’ biggest weakness heading into postseason play, The Athletic’s Seth Partnow and Alex Schiffer focused on a familiar theme for the club — an inability to defend at even a middling level.
The duo noted that the Nets rank 23rd league-wide in defensive rating at 113.2. And while they’ve performed better more recently, their defense has still hovered around the bottom 10 since the All-Star break.
According to Partnow, the Nets’ D could look particularly bad against Embiid due to the team’s inability to match his physicality. Particularly as relates to Brooklyn’s best defender, big man Nic Claxton.
Schiffer concurred, saying, “You mentioned Embiid and are correct on Claxton; Embiid pushes him around without breaking a sweat.”
Partnow had pointed out that Embiid got the better of Jarrett Allen — a player of similar build and style to Claxton — two years ago, and he’s not wrong. During the 2018-19 NBA playoffs, the Sixers outscored the Nets by 47 points per 100 possessions when Embiid and Allen were both on the court.
Philly ultimately won the first-round series 4-1.
The league insiders also pointed out that Philly is one of the few teams around the Association with the perimeter size to bother the Nets on the other side of the court.
Embiid vs. Brooklyn in ’20-21
Embiid played in all three of his club’s games against the Nets this season and was able to put up points at a slightly higher rate along the way. The MVP candidate averaged 30.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per contest in those contests while posting an effective field goal percentage of 51.6.
Curiously, though, the Sixers were actually outscored by 0.5 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the floor against the Nets.
The deficit was even greater during the fourth quarter, where Embiid posted a net rating of minus-9.7 in games versus Brooklyn.
Still, postseason play is a different animal, and Embiid is clearly motivated not to repeat the Sixers’ rough performance in the Orlando, Florida bubble last season.
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