With the first round of the NBA playoffs set, let’s take an early look at some things to keep an eye on as the Sixers match up with the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs.
Joel Embiid is the X-factor of this series
Assuming Embiid is healthy for the playoffs, which Brett Brown says he expects, the Nets haven’t been able to stop him all season. He averaged 30 points per game and nearly 15 rebounds against them. On top of that, Embiid has gotten to the line at least 10 times a game against Brooklyn, and he’s shooting over 80 percent from there. In their most recent matchup on March 28, both Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis had a tough time defending him. The Nets also tried going small with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Brooklyn knows it can’t match up size for size, so don’t be surprised if they look to counter with speed.
What about the other 10 minutes?
For where there is a strength, there is also a weakness. One of the Sixers' biggest challenges of this series will be what to do when Embiid is not on the court. Let’s say Embiid plays 38 minutes, that’s 10 minutes of action where Brown will have to make the choice between an inexperienced Jonah Bolden or a big that doesn’t have that same foot speed in Boban Marjanovic or Greg Monroe. If you’re Brooklyn, that’s where you really look to attack the Sixers' pick-and-roll defense.
Both the Sixers and Nets have been elite teams in defending the three this season (top five in every category), but it’s the Nets who excel in making them, averaging the fifth most made three-pointers a game this season, with nearly 13 a game. On top of that, virtually every Net (with the exception of Jarrett Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) can shoot a three, which will pose a challenge for the Sixers' defense. And for the Sixers, Brown says a "hunting threes mentality" is something he’s been working on with this group. They shot 48 percent from three (12 of 25) en route to their big win over Brooklyn last month.
Other things to note
The Sixers may be forced to take a second look at their "go-guys" and "get-back guys," terms that Brown has used to delineate who should be crashing the offensive boards and who should be getting back on defense. The Nets are not a team you want to allow to get out in transition. If you watch Sixers basketball, you already know the matchup problems that D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LaVert cause for the Sixers. Oh, and force Russell to his right as much as you can.
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