Everything — and somehow nothing — has changed between the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers.
With both teams seeing each other for the first time since their first round playoff bout this past spring, it was a complete 180 in the advanced box score. There was no excess of second chance points surrendered to Philly. There was no abominable rebounding differential. Brooklyn actually won that battle by a hair.
But none it mattered, as it ended the same way as Brooklyn’s past eight contests have vs the Sixers, with Philly celebrating a dub. Even if you discount the playoffs, Brooklyn has still lost five straight against the 76ers — now their longest active losing streak against any team in the league.
Losing by a 121-99 score, Brooklyn took a real beating. It wasn’t their first double-digit loss of the season, but was their first one where they failed to stay competitive for the majority of the game.
I don’t expect fans to want to relive this one going forward, but there’s always a few lessons in every loss. Here’s three things we can take away today.
Injuries Are Starting to Show
I know, I haven’t been able to shut up about Brooklyn’s inability to get downhill and put pressure on the rim this year. A lot of that lies on Spencer Dinwiddie’s shoulders, who once made that his bread and butter, but has been inconsistent so far this year.
However, a Cam Thomas return to lineup solves a lot of it.
Anytime your leading scorer spends the game in street clothes rather than a uniform, your offense takes a step back. But Thomas’ skillset gives the Nets exactly what they’re missing right now. He’s not just a supporting pillar, but an irreplaceable foundation.
As of today, Thomas ranks in the top-20 in the entire league in with 13.5 drives per game. Scoring himself or sucking the defense in to then create space for his teammates, he pumps blood into the offense.
With the Nets averaging 44 drives per game since Thomas injured his foot — a bottom 10 mark across the league — they look anemic right now.
Today’s game included an overload of dribble handoffs to Brooklyn’s wings that went nowhere. It was like watching the players go on a carousel that ends with a face full of Joel Embiid after whipping you around a few times. Not a carnival ride fun carnival ride by any means.
Fast break points is the other facet of Brooklyn’s offense that’s plummeted over the past couple weeks, and while I’m less optimistic about his return any time soon, Ben Simmons solves that too.
Brooklyn had just 14 transition points this afternoon. That’s down compared to the 18.7 they averaged before Simmons went down with back soreness. His speed, vision, and passing make him an ideal conductor for any fast break locomotive. The Nets were off the rails without him today.
“Obviously we’d like to have our team but I think we got good enough players where we can go out there and win,” said Mikal Bridges postgame. “Just gotta execute and be on the same page.”
While Bridges is right to speak confidently as a team leader, Simmons and especially Thomas would help with that execution. Thomas is scheduled to be re-evaluated at the end of this week, so fingers crossed for good news.
Physicality Just Isn’t There
Getting away from the stats and leaning more into the “eye test” view of the game, Brooklyn looked like a team getting thrown from the top rope for a second game in a row now.
With Brooklyn being a unit that likes to shoot the three, score in transition, and stay away from bully ball offense, physicality isn’t exactly their forte at least on the offensive end. Still, that’s no excuse to roll over like they way they did today against Philadelphia.
Diving for lose balls, fifty-fifty plays, positioning around the rim, bumping guys on screens, the Nets lost on all these fronts this afternoon.
Joel Embiid also resembles one of the games tougher adversaries when you try to go toe-to-toe from a physical standpoint, but the Nets have done it before.
With Brooklyn playing him tough, getting in his grill, and not being afraid to make contact, Embiid scored more than 20 points just once in his playoff series vs the Nets last spring. They also forced him into 7.5 turnovers per game for the series.
But today Embiid flirted with a triple double, adding 32 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists. He turned the rock over just once.
“Nobody’s gonna gain 20 pounds in the next two weeks, so that’s not happening,” said Jacque Vaughn when asked about guarding Embiid. “But our physicality has to be shown in a different way, whether it is our resilience, whether it is how hard we cut, whether it is how we continue to communicate. So there’s a different level of physicality for us that’s going to extend beyond you know, who’s bigger, who’s stronger?”
It wasn’t just Embiid who looked more physical than any other Net today. Glue guys Paul Reed, Danuel House Jr., and Tobias Harris all had good sequences at points in the game where they out-muscled the Nets for boards, positioning around the block, or just as defensive stoppers.
“It’s the land between, you know, I think we have to be more on the aggressive end but not hurting somebody,” said Lonnie Walker IV postgame. “But you know, they come to that lane, we’re there.”
Getting Sloppy Can’t Be Tolerated
Aside from Philadelphia’s accuracy from deep, their +11 advantage in the turnover department spelled trouble for Brooklyn today. The Nets turned it over 15 times to Philadelphia’s four. They also gave it away 14 times against the Heat, a few of which sparked Miami runs that put the game to bed.
With the Nets forcing the fewest turnovers by any team in the league this year, there’s little room for them to get sloppy while possessing the ball themselves.
They’ve solved their rebounding problem from last year, but if they continue to give away possessions while neglecting to steal any back for themselves, their opponents will reel in more attempts than them night in and night out. Despite the Nets winning on the glass, Philly still hoisted up 13 field goals than the Nets. In a 22 point loss, that’s essentially the game.
With Cam Thomas and Ben Simmons often handling the ball for Brooklyn, this takeaway could fall in as a sub-takeaway under my first one. But any coach will tell you that protecting the rock is a something you do as a team.
Additionally, the giveaways were evenly distributed today amongst Brooklyn’s facilitators and finishers. Cameron Johnson, Nic Claxton, Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker IV, Bridges, and Dinwiddie all had two turnovers a piece. From top to bottom, the team needs to lock in on locking up the ball.