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Clash of the titans: Nets and 76ers battle for Eastern Conference lead

Philadelphia 76ers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The following contest, scheduled for one fall, is for the Atlantic Division lead!

Coming down the aisle, the challengers. From Brooklyn, New York, the NETS! The Nets run leading up to this matchup included a dominant win against the Minnesota Timberwolves yesterday afternoon in Minneapolis. The win was their seventh win in the last ten games.

The opponent and current division leaders, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the SIXERS! Philadelphia has held serve near the top of the Eastern Conference all season and hope to be the top dogs once the regular season ends. Philly warmed up for this one by knocking the Dallas Mavericks around out on Monday night. The win was their seventh in the last ten games.

Where to follow the game

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

We’ll be hosting Clubhouse again post-game. Details here.


James Harden, Spencer Dinwiddie, Lamarcus Aldridge and Tyler Johnson are out. Kyrie Irving is to be determined. Kevin Durant’ status remains uncertain, as is Blake Griffin. Chris Chiozza left yesterday’s game with a right hand injury. No word on his availability tonight.

George Hill is out. Anthony Tolliver is day-to-day.

The game

Brooklyn won the first meeting while Philly took the second. This is the third and final regular season meeting between these two teams. Kevin Durant has yet to play vs. the Sixers.

The Nets played yesterday because the state of Minnesota and the country at large is reeling after Brooklyn Center police officer killed Duante Wright during a traffic stop on Sunday afternoon. Steve Nash spoke about it after the game and had this to say:

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be African American, to be an African American parent. It’s unacceptable. And it’s devastating to put yourself in their shoes, and it’s devastating just to be a part of it. It’s the same thing over and over again. People are losing their lives for no reason. And it’s been happening for hundreds of years. And we’re still here in 2021.”

It’s exhausting having to go through this month after month after month when police kill people for no reason and suffer no consequences. I really don’t know what to say any more besides offering condolences to the families that have lost their loved ones.

When the Sixers wrap this up, they’ll have a very tough run of opponents. They’re home for the Clippers, Warriors, and Suns before spending two games in Milwaukee against the Bucks. This stretch here will likely determine who gets the top seed in the East and the easier (relatively speaking) path to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Question one is how do the Nets stop Joel Embiid. The big man is hell on wheels and is someone that has wrecked shop against the Nets in playoff settings before. He’s right up there in the MVP race and his shooting touch, ability to stretch the floor, post game, and intimidating interior defense makes him one of the most imposing figures in basketball today. I saw a good article from Daniel Olinger of Liberty Ballers and this part was super interesting:

The “problem” is with Embiid’s passing skill rather than his mental process. He doesn’t have, or at least doesn’t think he has, the level of precision on his dimes needed to find those interior feeds, and thus his passing becomes more predictable as all inside-out rather than using the pressure he puts on a defense inside the three-point line to toss the ball to a teammate positioned even further inside.

What are the stakes tonight? Let the big fella tell us

So what do the Nets do? The play might be to double Embiid and let everyone else on the roster beat you. Doc’s guys are only 26th in three point attempts and 15th in efficiency so that could be something the Nets try to exploit. Nicolas Claxton will have the toughest matchup of his young career tonight. He’s exceeded all expectations but with Aldridge out, more will be asked of him tonight. DeAndre Jordan returned to the rotation yesterday and looked pretty good for a dude who hasn’t played in weeks. Jordan’s size will be essential as he does battle with Embiid and Dwight Howard on the boards. Philly is the fourth best rebounding team in the league this year while the Nets are solidly in the middle of the pack.

It sucks we won’t get these teams at full strength tonight, but there still could be lessons to learn if they wind up seeing each other in the playoffs.

The Nets sometimes get careless with the ball, and the 76ers are the last team you want to do that with. Philly is fourth in opponent’s turnover rate and sixth in points off of turnovers so a shorthanded Nets team will have to play an A+ game if they want to walk out of the arena with the lead in the Conference.

With Harden definitely out, Irving probably out, and Chiozza injured, the Nets point guard situation tonight is looking pretty murky. Former 76er Landry Shamet figures to handle a ton of the ballhandling responsibilities for the Nets tonight and his shooting will help keep them in it.

If this game turns out to be a flop, maybe we can have a three point shootout between Joe Harris, Danny Green, and Seth Curry? Hell, we can have that anyway and I’d be here for it.

Player to watch: Ben Simmons

I LOVE this energy, but now he’ll have to produce.

Anybody can get it. Simmons can do practically everything on a basketball court but shoot from 15+ feet, so he’ll definitely make an impact tonight. Simmons can defend one through five, is a cerebral passer, and electric in the open court. I’ve fallen guilty of this at times, but we do ourselves a disservice by talking too much about the one thing he doesn’t do and not everything else he does at an elite level. He’s had a meh second half of the season after the All Star break, but now that we’re heading into the home stretch of the regular season, he’ll lock in and will be someone that can help Philly get to the Finals.

Assuming he plays tonight, this figures to be toughest test for KD since returning from the hamstring injury. The shot has definitely been there since returning, and a great sign from yesterday’s game is the fact that he turned it over only four times in his 27 minutes of playing time. He had turned it over 14 times in his first two games back as he knocked the rust off.

And Simmons commentary is everywhere...

Oh, almost forgot. KD spent yesterday dealing with Shannon Sharpe’s foolishness, and I’ll let my man Nekias Duncan take us home:

We continue to side with, laugh at, and ultimately consume foolishness under the guise of entertainment. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting laughter with your sports talk, nothing inherently wrong with debate-style shows based around the players and teams we care about the most. Obviously it’s a fruitful endeavor.

But at what point do we demand a little better? That doesn’t mean a departure from those shows altogether, or from the debate-plus-banter-with-a-sprinkle-of-analysis concept. There’s room to have that while also raising the standard a bit. And by standard, I mean “make sure the quote you want to use in your argument doesn’t come from a troll page” should probably be the bar.

Gonna need a bunch of y’all with large platforms to get your shit together.

From the Vault

NBATV aired a special celebrating the 1996 NBA Draft on Sunday night. With that in mind, let’s celebrate two of the very best from that all time class

More reading: Liberty Ballers