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James Harden returns to Brooklyn as new look Nets host 76ers

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Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Well alright! Thursday was a hectic and sad day for the Brooklyn Nets as they said goodbye to legend and future Hall of Famer, Kevin Durant. There wasn’t any time to wallow in self pity, though, as the team still had a job to do and push to make the playoffs. They helped the cause by beating the Chicago Bulls at home on Thursday night. The Nets currently sit in the fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, 11 games above .500 on the season, and still have a chance to make things happen.

The opponent tonight is looking to finally break through and make it out of the Eastern Conference playoffs this spring. The Philadelphia 76ers promise to be a challenging matchup for anybody in the postseason and have arguably the best player in the East. They snapped a three game losing streak with a victory against the New York Knicks last night in Philly. When this contest wraps up, they’re heading back home for a five game homestand that will carry them through the end of the month.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for us, NBATV for the rest of y’all. Tip off after 6 PM


Seth Curry is out. Nic Claxton is probable with right hamstring tightness. Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are questionable as they’re waiting for all the paperwork from the trade with the Phoenix Suns to be complete.

It’s night two of a back-to-back for the 76ers — a win over the Knicks — so we’ll see find out later who, if anybody, is out.

The game

Philly won game one in November and game two in January. They wrap the season series up the last day of the regular season in April.

Philly’s got a new member of the team. On Thursday, they traded Matisse Thybulle to the Portland Trailblazers and picked up Jalen McDaniels from the Charlotte Hornets. Over at Liberty Ballers, Paul Hudrick wrote about how McDaniels will help this Philly squad:

The Sixers’ bench is starved for length and athleticism. McDaniels uses both of those attributes to put up solid rebounding numbers off the wing — an obvious area of weakness with this team. Last season, the best of his career, he was in the 80th percentile for both offensive and defensive rebounding among wings, per Cleaning the Glass. And while he doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of Thybulle, McDaniels is in the 90th percentile in blocks and 87th in steals for his position this season.

He didn’t play last night, but he ought to be making his 76ers debut tonight.

Nic Claxton is likely back tonight, and he’ll be facing one of the baddest dudes around. Joel Embiid has a good chance of finally getting the MVP award, and it would be incredibly well deserved. The big fella is second in the NBA in scoring at 33.3 points per game on /536/.356/.843 shooting splits. When he wants to, he can absolutely take over a game and batter opposing frontcourts. For a guy his size, he can do practically everything possible on a basketball court and is damn near impossible to deal with. Not to be outdone, he’s 12th in rebounding, tenth in blocks, and gives you four assists a game as well. In the last matchup, Clax put up a hell of a fight and took it to the All Star starter in his own right. Clax has shown he’s not one to back down from a challenge, and Embiid is the biggest challenge there is.

The backup is never as good as the superstar, but the 76ers are especially weak when Embiid sits. Montrezl Harrell hasn’t been productive when he’s been on the court and Doc Rivers hasn’t used Paul Reed as much as Sixer fans would like. It’s left Daryl Morey to try and figure out what he can do to improve that position down the stretch.

For the Nets, Spencer Dinwiddie made his return to the team following the trade from the Dallas Mavericks and looked like he never left. Din paced the Nets attack with 25 points, six assists, five rebounds, and four steals to only one turnover in 38 minutes. He attacks at will and kept the Nets offense humming when he was running it. For the Nets, they are going to need him to put the pedal to the metal and run, run, run.

All the bigs on the court tonight will have to contend with guards who love to attack the basket. For the 76ers, Tyrese Maxey has been the engine coming off the bench that has taken on the role of the third shot creator. He’s had some struggles running bench lineups as the lead option, but that can be tweaked the deeper we go in to the season.

Three-point shooting will be absolutely essential tonight. The Nets are second in three point percentage while the Sixers are fourth. For Brooklyn, Joe Harris heated up in a hurry and helped the Nets get back in rhythm on Thursday. They’re going to need to be locked in from deep now that they don’t have an offensive fulcrum like Durant to score everything he touches the rock. Having guys like Harris, Royce O’Neale, Seth Curry, and Patty Mills cashing in on their threes becomes even more important when you don’t have a player who can create their own shot.

Cam Thomas had an interesting night on Thursday. He didn’t score 40 points, but did get fined $40,000 after he made a dumb comment on the TNT postgame interview. He struggled with his shot, but did goa perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line. Young players never lack for confidence, and this season is a perfect opportunity for Thomas to figure how to find that proper balance of aggression and distribution. There are gonna be a lot of moments where you want him to turn it down, but he’ll figure it out the more reps he gets.

If everything in Phoenix is handled, we’ll be seeing the debut of the newest Nets. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson will look to translate the success they had on the Suns here in Brooklyn. Johnson is a sniper from deep and will get plenty of opportunities to get threes up. Bridges is the centerpiece of what the Nets hope to accomplish going forward. He’s steadily improved each season in the league and took on more scoring and playmaking responsibilities due to the injuries to Devin Booker and Chris Paul. That served as a great training ground for the Nets and he’ll have more opportunities to create offense and make things happen. On defense, he, Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Claxton will make for a rangy, super athletic, ferocious core. The Nets are different than what we’re used to, but sometimes change is good for everybody.

Player to watch: James Harden

One year. Almost one year to the day, James Harden forced his way out of Brooklyn and on to the Sixers in a blockbuster trade. It was the first step in the eventual dissolution of the Nets superteam dreams and the Kevin Durant trade officially closed this chapter of Nets history. This is funny to look back at now considering that the Nets super team experiment is done with, but I think this holds up when taking the big picture view of the Big 3 Nets:

One year and a messy breakup later, it was still worth it. The team and fans have a chance to see their first NBA championship and when you’re trying to win chips, you have to go all in and get the best players you can. The Nets swung for the fences and while they missed with Harden, the thinking was sound. When Harden was engaged and playing seriously, he was a great Net and made them one of the most overwhelming offenses we have ever seen.

Still worth it.

Chances are, the reaction to Harden probably won’t be especially venomous now that things are different in Brooklyn. We’ll see.

In the meantime, he’s playing at an All-Star level. He leads the league in assists at close to 11 a night and has done a great job of running the second units when he’s out there with them. This is probably a result of him taking the fewest amount of shots inside of three feet in his career, but he’s only attempting six free throws a game, his lowest since his days as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. To be fair, that’s good for 18th best in the league, but still.

Ben Simmons came off the bench on Thursday, and had a quality night all things considered. He had eight points, eight rebounds, and four assists in 19 minutes off the bench. He also initiated this fun bit of business

There aren’t any championship expectations for this team, so maybe this will allow Simmons to be comfortable and regain his previous All Star form. The big test for him is can he continue to play with force and not overthink things when he’s on the court? He’s mentioned repeatedly that it takes time to get back from a back injury, and he’s right. However, we’ve seen him play exceptional ball in spurts this season. The Nets will need him to find ways to do his best and make good, decisive plays. Going up against his former team should give him some extra juice.

From the Vault

Tomorrow night is the Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Vault wanted to dig into great moments of Super Bowls past here, but the NFL are some haters. Instead, let’s pull up some jams we hope Rihanna does at halftime!

More reading: Liberty Ballers