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Mikal Bridges and the opportunity to show some star quality

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It seems the 76ers are still underrating Mikal Bridges.

Five years ago they drafted the local product — and the son of a 76ers employee no less — at No. 10 before trading him to Phoenix 15 minutes later for the rights to Zhaire Smith and Miami’s 2021 first-round pick, which turned into Tre Mann. Not a good deal.

Now, Bridges has his first real opportunity to return the favor. He will lead the Nets into Philadelphia Sunday night on ESPN, an opportunity not just to remind the Sixer faithful of their mistake.

Adding to Bridges’ list of grievances is some bulletin board material provided by Doc Rivers which implied Bridges who has three 40-point games and 11 30-point games since the trade deadline doesn’t qualify as a star.

The Sixers head coach was asked how Philadelphia will prepare for a Brooklyn Nets team without a star player.

“They say you have to have stars to win a championship. They don’t say you have to have stars to win a series. There’s a big difference,” Rivers responded. “You have to be ready. The playoffs is what makes you a star. There’s probably three or four guys when this whole season is over who are gonna be stars that we don’t even know yet.

“Let’s hope we don’t create them.”

Well, the definition of “star” is indeed subjective and Bridges has never made the All-Star team, but he certainly has proven his star quality since the deadline, averaging 27.4 points a game before his four-second cameo in the final game of the regular season.

In short, despite his recent accomplishments, including playing more minutes — 5,817 — than anyone else the last two seasons, Bridges will have to prove himself as a star on the big stage.

“Reputations are made in the playoffs. So if Mikal keeps playing at the level he is he’ll be considered a star at the end of this thing, especially if we can advance or do anything special,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “We have a guy who has the ability to play at that level.”

He did put up decent playoff numbers in his time with the Suns despite being the fourth option, averaging 12.0 in the NBA Finals two years ago. He had a tough time last year in the Western Conference second round last season, like a number of his Suns teammates. His last playoff appearance, in the Game 7 Mavericks blowout, he finished with six points on 3-of-11 shooting. So he’ll have something to prove in that regard as well.

None of this seems to bother Jacque Vaughn. He says he likes the Nets collective approach.

“You look at teams seven, eight, nine, ten, they have an All-Star or multiple All-Stars on their team,” Vaughn said Friday. “And this sixth seed, the Brooklyn Nets, we did it in a very competitive and collective way as a group, as a team.”

Not surprisingly, Bridges wouldn’t let himself get involved in the controversy.

“Yeah I mean our biggest thing is just playing for each other, playing for one another,” he said. “We have all the confidence in the world in everybody out there. Whatever five is out there and we got to play together and play hard and play for the whole 48.”

Also not surprisingly, Bridges admitted he was a big 76ers fan growing up in suburban Philly, in particular, the two A.I.s — Allen Iverson and Andre Iguodala.

“Yeah, I was a huge Sixers fan. I mean, everybody knows that. Just grew up in Philly and grew up going all the games in the world. So yeah, definitely big A.I. big, big Iggy guy, a lot of guys so I know pretty much everybody when I was growing up.”

For a lot of people in Philly, no doubt including Rivers, the Nets were the preferred first round opponent. They did not want the Heat who have a more experienced playoff team. So they got what they wanted ... and no doubt, so did Mikal Bridges.