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Nets host 76ers on MLK Day

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Dr. Martin L. King Voting

Weight room. The Milwaukee Bucks have been the best team in the NBA this season and that was on full display Saturday night when they smoked the Brooklyn Nets by 20. It was the team's third straight loss. Times are hard.

The opponent today will be the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers still hope to make a push for their first NBA Finals appearance since 2001, but the road to get there will be daunting. They've been in town all weekend and beat the Knicks at the Garden on Saturday. They wrap up their three game road ttip on Wednesday against Toronto.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. It's a holiday so we're getting the party started at 3 PM.

Injuries

DeAndre Jordan will be reevaluated in a week due to the finger injury he suffered last Wednesday. Wilson Chandler is out due to left hamstring tightness. Kyrie Irving is questionable with right hamstring tightness. Joe Harris missed Saturday's game due to lower back soreness. He's set to play today. Garrett Temple is expected back after missing Saturday with a knee injury. That leaves only Kevin Durant who’s making “progress.”

Joel Embiid is making progress, too, from his finger injury, but he'll miss this one. Al Horford (left hand sprain) is questionable. If both are out, look for two-way Norvel Pelle to get a lot more minutes. Pelle is on the last day of his 45-day two-way contract limit.

The game

Brooklyn won the first one in December and Philly took the second one last week.

With Jordan out, Nic Claxton will get a chance to showcase his skills. Claxton is a springy rookie and the more time he gets to work with the big club, the better he'll be long term. He and Jarrett Allen will match up with Al Horford, if he plays. Brett Brown has to figure out what role he'll play come playoff time, but for now, Horford is back at his natural center position. Otherwise, it’s 6’10” Norvel Pelle.

As for Claxton, the Nets will be looking to see if he can follow up with another solid game, but they like what they’ve seen.

“He’s gonna be really good in this league,” said Kenny Atkinson. “I hope I don’t say that about every single guy that’s on our roster, but he’s got something extra. He’s a really fast athlete. He’s got great hands. He’s a quick reactor. Quick jumper. He’s got a knack for the game. Great instincts.”

The Nets are going to need a banner game out of Kyrie Irving to win this one. Irving has struggled with his shot the past two games, but I wouldn't worry too much about that as he can heat up out of nowhere. Philly has a bunch of quality wing defenders they can throw at Irving today and they'll try to keep him guessing.

Ben Simmons is the key to Philly's chances of getting past Giannis Antetokuonmpo and the Bucks. Simmons can do pretty much everything on a basketball court, with the glaring exception of making shots outside of ten feet. Is he good enough at everything else to overcome that huge weakness? If the answer to that question is no, then the Sixers will be stuck where they currently are for the foreseeable future.

Player to watch: Tobias Harris

Harris was the man who delivered the knockout punch on Wednesday, and for a team that needs someone to take big shots late, he might be their guy. Ky Carlin of USA Today explains:

It is continuous progression such as this one that pleases coach Brett Brown and his team. This needs to become a night in and night out type of aspect for him moving forward. Even when Joel Embiid returns from injury, they need that type of perimeter play to close games out. In today’s NBA, you need to have a guy who can break down a defense from the perimeter and make plays off the dribble.

Harris is a solid player in his own right, but it feels like his max contract salary clouds the perception of him. Is he going to be a player in the top tier of the league? Nope. But can he be a reliable player that brings you a little closer to championship contention? Yup.

Taurean Prince will be at the four for Brooklyn.

KD and MLK

Over the past three days in Washington, DC, the Kevin Durant MLK Classic has been underway. It’s more than just a basketball tournament in KD’s hometown. It’s a celebration of Martin Luther King’s life and values. As Jerry Bembry of The Undefeated described it this way...

A three-day event that features 16 teams from across North America. Two days of basketball, on Saturday and Monday, with a break from games on Sunday for the teams to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Over the course of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached equality,” said Wayne Pratt, Durant’s father and the organizer for the holiday weekend event.

From the Vault

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we'll see a lot of tributes to the man and his work across the league. Here is one of his most important speeches

More reading: Liberty Ballers