The Sixers would be wise to avoid overlooking a hungry Nets team

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The Brooklyn Nets were once the kid in the corner of the room with the dunce hat on their head. The infamous Garnett and Pierce trade made them the laughingstock of the league and crippled any flexibility they had moving forward. However, under a new regime led by GM Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson, the Nets have made themselves a legitimate NBA team once more and have managed to make the playoffs as the 6th seed.

After a few smart moves and good coaching, the Nets have constructed a roster that is able to keep opponents on their toes throughout the entirety of games. First-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell has been a revelation for the team. He’s putting up career highs in points, rebounds (tied), assists, FG%, 3PT% and minutes. They’ve surrounded him with a slew of different players who are capable of creating their own shots and playing team defense on a consistent basis.

The Nets will be tasked with taking on the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1st round. The Sixers, who are still trying to figure out how all of their pieces fit together, shouldn’t take the Nets lightly. They split the regular season series 2-2. Sure, they only faced off once after the Sixers had acquired Tobias Harris, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Nets are a threat.

In their first matchup, D’Angelo Russell, Caris Levert, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson lit the 76ers up for 20+ points each and the Nets won by 25. In the second meeting, Philadelphia came away with a 2 point win thanks in large part to heroics from Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler. Spencer Dinwiddie and Russell still managed to put up 30+ points each.

In the third game, the Nets won by 3 despite a monster 33 point and 17 rebound performance from Joel Embiid. It wasn’t enough to negate Allen Crabbe’s 20 points and Dinwiddie’s 39 (sensing a pattern here?). The fourth and final game resulted in a 13 point win for the Sixers who were supported by Embiid’s overwhelming 39 points and 13 rebounds.

The Sixers have one of the most potent starting lineups in the entire league. They have two All-Stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, a former 4x All-Star in Jimmy Butler, sharpshooter extraordinaire J.J Redick and Tobias Harris, who is having a career season and probably would have been an All-Star had he played in the Eastern Conference for the entire season. With a starting five that talented, the 76ers should have nothing to fear right? Wrong.

“We don’t match up well…Completely dangerous. They have a bunch of players who can play out of a live ball or a pick-and-roll…Where do I need the most help? It’s pick-and-roll defense…The matchup scares you.” This is a quote from Sixers head coach Brett Brown when asked about the matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.

Should your team’s head coach come out and say that he’s scared about a unique upcoming first-round playoff series when you should be the heavy favorites? Probably not, but he isn’t wrong.

All season long, the Sixers have struggled to guard the pick-and-roll, especially when there is a dynamic ball handler setting it all up. The Nets happen to have a few good ones at their disposal. It’s also not only the pick-and-roll defense that should worry the Sixers. The pressure has become increasingly heavy.

Management has already come out and said that getting past where they were last year and winning a championship is the ultimate goal and anything less than that would be disappointing. Not to mention, if the team does go home in the first or second round, they could potentially lose soon-to-be free agents Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler after giving up quite a haul for the both of them.

Elton Brand didn’t make those moves just to make it past the second round and return to Philly empty-handed. He made them with the hope of giving the team as much ammo as possible to fight for a championship. Not making it past the second round would be a huge blow to this team.

On the other hand, the Nets have nothing to lose. They did make the playoffs but that on its own is a major accomplishment for a team who had a very dim light at the end of the tunnel before the season began. They will leave everything out on the floor and with nothing to lose, the Nets could end up surprising the Sixers if they don’t take them seriously enough. Just because the Sixers have more talent doesn’t mean they should overlook a Nets team who is hungry to rise up the rankings and prove themselves to the rest of the league.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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