And boy do I mean depleted. Ben Simmons’ long-awaited return to Philadelphia won’t have quite as much juice as we’d hoped for, with the Sixers down their three best players. But we’ll get into the full injury report a bit later. For now, let’s focus on the positive: The Nets are on a two-game winning streak, part of a 6-3 record over their last nine games, eight of which were without Kyrie Irving, the ninth featuring minimal contributions from him in his return.
So what and who have stepped up? Much of the ‘what’ is, simply, the defense. Brooklyn has the second-best defensive rating in the NBA over those nine games (despite the franchise’s worst defensive performance ever vs. the Kings.) Throughout this stretch, the improved vibes are largely following in the footsteps of Brooklyn’s intensity on that end. In terms of scheme though, the one difference in this fairly successful month of November is that the Nets are focused on funneling as many 3-pointers as they can away from the corners. This is a fairly standard situation for Royce O’Neale and Brooklyn to find themselves in, but out of principle, O’Neale makes sure that if the Grizzlies are going to shoot a three here, it’s not going to be from the corner:
This represents the only real change in their defensive shot profile. Since that November 4 blowout of the Washington Wizards, the Nets have given up the eighth-fewest corner threes in the league, while giving up the fifth-most non-corner threes, per Cleaning the Glass.
Much of this strategy’s recent success can be attributed to not only Brooklyn’s recent success flying around the court with great gusto, but the lanky lineups they’re rolling out. A healthier Ben Simmons means a much more active Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant is averaging nearly two blocks a game, Nic Claxton has been, per usual, everywhere. Joe Harris is continuing his best defensive season to date, and every minute of Seth Curry/Patty Mills minutes that Edmund Sumner eats up is good news for the defense. When Yuta Watanabe plays, he’s usually one of three athletic, 6’9 guys the Nets are running out there. November opponents have not been able to score inside the arc:
Will opponents continue to shoot 10 points worse than league-average from the mid-range? Probably not. Do the Nets really have the third-best defense at the rim in the NBA? Again, no. But this hasn’t just been fools gold. Brooklyn’s willingness to allow a ton of threes is working because their activity in help has been excellent. If, on the above play, Royce O’Neale had flown past John Konchar on a long close-out, you can be sure his teammates would’ve had his back.
And these good vibes should roll on for at least one more game. On Tuesday night, as a reward for all their hard work, the Nets will face as putrid of an offense as will be seen on an NBA floor this season: the Philadelphia 76ers.
Where to follow the game
It’s nationally televised; I wonder why! TNT has the only broadcast on TV Tuesday night, so we could be in for Ian Eagle and Stan Van Gundy (commentators haven’t been announced yet.) The game is not on YES. WFAN-FM has the radio call, and tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET from Wells Fargo Center.
And if you’re looking for the Brooklyn Brigade tonight, here’s a handy guide on where to look, per Doug Bearak...
There will be a lot of them!
Some late news for the Nets: Nic Claxton (non-Covid illness) and Yuta Watanabe (right hamstring tightness) are questionable. But if they both play, it will be the cleanest report of the season for Brooklyn. T.J. Warren is still rehabbing that foot, and otherwise that’s it,
Meanwhile, the Sixers are absolutely decimated. Joel Embiid (foot), out. James Harden (foot), out. Tyrese Maxey (foot, again) out. Tobias Harris (hip, for a change) is questionable, and Furkan Korkmaz (knee) is probable. Still, though, that’s about 77 points already ruled out for Tuesday’s game, from Philly’s unquestionably three best players.
The Philadelphia 76ers are actually the only squad with a better defense than Brooklyn over the last nine games. However, much of that was due to Joel Embiid’s increase in effort and springiness as the season grew a bit older. Embiid, for all his offensive genius, is an absolute menace defensively. He is truly All-NBA caliber on that end, often weighed down by the immense pressure on him to carry Philly’s offense. Embiid, down Maxey and Harden, was carrying that offense admirably, but now he’s out too. The 76ers must rely on Tobias Harris, if he plays, and Shake Milton for offense. Oof.
I will not be selecting a player to watch from the Philly side, because I’m not going to do that to myself. But the key to what could be an easy Brooklyn win is the same as it was against Memphis: Do not allow offensive rebounds. The Nets didn’t do a great job of that vs. the Grizzlies, forfeiting 13 extra possessions and only gaining five themselves. It was a huge reason they were locked in a dogfight vs. a far less talented team through three quarters.
That is sure to be the case again on Tuesday night, if Brooklyn doesn’t take care of business. The return of Nic Claxton should help, but Philly has the bodies to get O-boards. Paul Reed is 6’9” with springs and a plus-5 wingspan that should see an increased role in Embiid’s absence. You already know what Montrezl Harrell will bring to the table with his increased minutes. P.J. Tucker loves nothing more than to sneakily crash the boards from his perch in the corner.
The crowd will be rocking for Simmons’ return. It wouldn’t matter if Philly’s starting five was the cast of It’s Always Sunny; these fans bought tickets long in advance, and are not going to waste an opportunity to jeer their hearts out. They’ll roar even louder when KD and P.J. Tucker inevitably get into it. Shake Milton and Tobias Harris, with the greenest lights they’ll ever see, are capable of putting up numbers. Georges Niang may hit five threes. But at some point, the talent disparity should be too much for Philly to overcome. Extra possessions for the Sixers, though, can render that disparity a moot point.
The good news is that the Nets should come out much more motivated than they did for a classic trap game vs. the Grizzlies on Sunday. A nationally televised game in that environment? Kevin Durant could probably motivate me and Matt Brooks to chip in ten off the bench. As long as that energy translates to the boards, Brooklyn should be alright in this one.
What are the Odds? [via Tom Lorenzo]
Betting Odds via DraftKings:
BK Nets -8 [-110]; ML -320; O/U 217.5
This is a tough one because it absolutely feels like a trap. The 76ers will be without James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid, while the Nets will have their big three in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.
Of course, Simmons will be under immense pressure in his return to Philly, but really it seems nearly impossible for these 76ers to hold their own offensively with a fairly healthy Nets team [Claxton is Questionable at the moment]. The 76ers will essentially be down about 77 points based on their injury report, as Lucas pointed out.
Here’s a great line from the folks at Action Network:
The 76ers have only played 97 possessions without Embiid, Harden, and Maxey this season. In those possessions, they have a -16.1 Point Differential while scoring just 97.9 points per 100 possessions and allowing 114 points per 100 possessions.
I’m struggling with the O/U this week because I’m not so sure that these 76ers can run with these Nets - the question remains, if the game gets out of hand early does Vaughn pull the core team and empty out the bench; and if so, does that bring the points total down, slash, does garbage time give way to a “76ers close the gap to 7 points in a game that isn’t as close as the final score indicates”?
Probably. Potentially. But, but...
I’m struggling to see the 76ers stay close in this one at all; even with garbage time maybe as early as the start of the 4th quarter.
Give me Brooklyn -8 and the Over 217.5. I can see a scenario where the Nets want to go out and embarrass the 76ers on national television.
From the Vault
For Nets fans, this isn’t the first time they’ll experience a game like this. Vince Carter torched the Raptors - and I mean, torched - just about every time New Jersey faced Toronto while he was in a Nets uniform. The game-winning three where he jumped on Jason Kidd, the game-tying three in regulation followed by the game-winning alley-top in OT. Anyway, here’s Carter’s original return to Toronto. They booed him like hell; he dropped 39. Vince was the man.
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- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Philadelphia 76ers Game Notes - Philadelphia 76ers
- Injury-wracked Sixers host Nets in Ben Simmons’ return - STATS
- Nets’ Simmons preps for hostile return in 1st game in Philly - Dan Gelston - AP
- 76ers C Embiid out at least 2 games with sprained left foot - AP
- Yuta Watanabe leading NBA in 3-point shooting amid Nets emergence - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Ben Simmons knows ‘what’s coming’ from Philly fans in first 76ers clash - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Ben Simmons upbeat about return to Philadelphia - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- ‘The most hostile environment he’s probably ever going to be in’: Ben Simmons returns to Philadelphia - Ramona Shelburne - ESPN
- Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons has always had David Patrick’s support in his basketball journey - Marc J. Spears - Andscape
- Ben Simmons to Expect ‘Hostile Environment’ in Philly Return - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Seth Curry Confident He’ll Be 100 Percent Past Left Ankle Woes - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated
- Ben Simmons on 76ers fans: ‘I can’t worry about everybody’s feelings’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Ben Simmons playing his best with the Nets ahead of Philly trip: ‘I know what’s coming’ - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Why Ben Simmons’ face went viral: “In Philly?! .. I know what’s coming” - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets’ Ben Simmons breaks silence on Joel Embiid relationship, return to Philadelphia - Erik Slater - Clutch Points
- Ben Simmons is prepared for an emotionally charged — and hostile — Philly return: ‘I know what’s coming’ - Keith Pompey - Philadelphia Inquirer
- Sixers’ Joel Embiid out with foot sprain, putting damper on anticipated Ben Simmons return - Gina Mizell - Philadelphia Inquirer