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Nets (finally) wrap up circus road trip vs Sixers

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Almost home. The Brooklyn Nets made it back to the East Coast and played the Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. They jumped out to a 16 point halftime lead, but we're unable to hold it and they wound up losing 104-99. It was their second straight loss and fourth in the last five games.

The final opponent on the circus trip will be the Philadelphia 76ers. Things are more or less the same with Philly as they wind down the rest of the year in preparation for the NBA Draft. They lost on Wednesday to Houston and their latest losing streak is at 13 games. (It's not just the circus that has kept the Nets out of Barclays. It's also the A-10 playoffs.)

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off is after 7 PM.

Injuries

Still no timetable on when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be returning, but he is practicing and working with shooting coach David Nurse.

Jahlil Okafor has been sidelined due to injuries on his right leg (knee and shin). It's unlikely he plays tonight. In other injured big man news, 2014 lottery pick Joel Embiid was seen working out on the court last week. He's also back from Qatar.

The game

The Nets won the first meeting while Philly took the second one.

The Sixers were rumored to be in on Atlanta's Dennis Schroder at the deadline, but nothing came of it. Philadelphia will be looking for a point guard this summer and if they are able to find a good one, it will speed up the rebuilding process and have them a little closer to respectability.

When you look at his numbers, Jahlil Okafor has been having a nice rookie season. He's second among rookies in scoring, averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes a game. As he gets more experience and guards that can get him the ball in good scoring positions, his offense figures to get even better. However, there's still a lot of room for improvement. Writer Jonathan Tjarks made the following observation last month:

That's the problem with building a team around an offensive-minded 5 - you are going to be waiting a long time for their defense to catch up. The Sacramento Kings have this problem with DeMarcus Cousins and the Orlando Magic have this problem with Nik Vucevic. DeMarcus has only begun to figure it out on defense in the last 2 years and that's still pretty hit or miss. Vucevic hasn't figured it out at all and my suspicion is that his presence at the 5 is one of the reasons why all the talent in Orlando hasn't coalesced into a winning basketball team. There's just a ceiling on how good your team can be when you are playing a sieve at the front of the rim - especially when there are a lot of young players in front of him who are making mental mistakes and giving up penetration - and it doesn't matter how many points he's scoring on offense if he's giving up just as many on defense.

As Okafor gets more experience, it'll be interesting to see how his defense develops. Philadelphia will, depending on if Embiid is healthy, have three young big men that can start at the center position for years. Sam Hinkie will have a major decision to make soon.

We won't be seeing Big Jah tonight, and that'll make things a bit easier for Brook Lopez. He managed to continue his run of great play on Wednesday by scoring 35 points and collecting a season high seven blocks. The victories haven't been there, but the Nets have been more enjoyable to watch under Tony Brown, and Lopez is a big part of that.

Ish Smith is still running the point for Philly, and for once, the Nets aren't at a severe disadvantage at the PG position. Smith's game is predicated on driving to the rim and putting pressure on opposing defenses. He's turned the ball over 14 percent of the time he's had it, but that's actually the lowest mark of his career. For Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan, their main task is to keep Smith on the perimeter and force him into taking jumpers.

Player to watch: Nerlens Noel

Without Okafor, Noel will be at Center for Brett Brown's club. His field goal percentage has jumped seven points from last year as he's taken 55 percent of his shots inside of three feet. He's second on the team in plays as the roll man in the P&R and he averages close to a point per possession on those plays. Defensively, he can be a good post presence in averting drives to the basket and protecting the rim. He and Jah haven't worked as well as management hoped, but there's still time to see how they play off of each other.

In addition to Lopez, Noel will see time defending Thaddeus Young. Thad only played 32 minutes on Tuesday, which was his lowest total since the blowout loss to Memphis to end the first half of the season. Brooklyn knows what they have in Thad and will spend the rest of the year evaluating the trio of Thomas Robinson, Willie Reed, and Chris McCullough.

More reading: Liberty Ballers