The stars almost align for Sixers-Nets

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Danny Pommells
·4 min read
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The stars almost align for Sixers-Nets originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers are probably still licking their wounds a bit ahead of Saturday night's South Philly showdown with the Brooklyn Nets. The team showed it hasn't quite turned the corner in playing down to the competition in Thursday's loss to a depleted Portland team with none of its superstars and only nine available players.

For Brooklyn, Kevin Durant's befuddling Covid-related absence from this evening's marquee Atlantic Division matchup casts a shadow over the robust storylines Philly fans have waited to dissect with their own eyes. Although, even without the Slim Reaper and Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn's offense will be a true test for the first-place Sixers and their elite defense.

When: 8 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Here are three storylines to keep your eye on:

The stars (almost) align

After the loss to the Blazers Thursday, Joel Embiid admitted he was "pretty concerned" when he landed awkwardly, hyperextending his knee in the 1st half. The 7-footer returned to play the entire second quarter, going 8 for 11 and tying Andrew Toney's team record for points in a quarter with 25. Considering the 37-point performance and with time to mend Friday, it was assumed Brooklyn's decision whether or not to sit KD in the second half of a back to back would be the only hindrance to these powerhouse NBA franchises unleashing their full complement of star power, but reality is often disappointing.

Durant is listed as questionable pending the results of his contact tracing, and Irving is also listed as out tonight with a sprained right index finger. The Nets lost to the Raptors last night so there's no telling if, for Irving, this is related to playing a back-to-back. The NBA is navigating some difficult times with pandemic-related issues in a shortened season all while trying to keep some sense of routine for the players and organizations. While this won't be the sublime, star-driven game fans were hoping for, I think appreciating that we simply have a high-level product to enjoy is the order of the day.

Embiid and Seth Curry are questionable to play, while Ben Simmons is probable after sitting Thursday with calf tightness.

Drivers, start your engines!

Casual observers would think that Durant's expected absence for Brooklyn might be like a restrictor plate on a 300 mph race car, but the Nets' offensive engine was full throttle in the last full game he missed against Oklahoma City last week. Brooklyn hung 147 points on the Thunder with nine players in double figures.

Irving's absence with Harden as the lone top-flight scoring option is something we haven't seen for Brooklyn. This should play directly into Doc Rivers' hands as this gives him immensely more options with his defensive matchups. The Sixers have the 5th-best Defensive Rating in the league according to Basketball-Reference. The Nets average an NBA-best 122 points per game.

The Sixers were primed for a rock-meets-hard-place type of matchup. Here's hoping they can show that they can shine against weaker opponents, which has been a sore spot in the past. It's worth noting that Harden had a 50 point triple-double in South Philly as a member of the Rockets. A wounded animal is often the most dangerous.

What have we learned?

Can the Sixers stop the live ball dribble? It's a problem dating back to the Brett Brown era (even more so than playing down to the competition) and it's partly the reason why the Sixers couldn't beat an undermanned Brooklyn roster in their first meeting this season. Those concerns lessen greatly with Irving not in the lineup for the Nets. Plus, vaunted Sixers killer Caris Levert is no longer with BK after getting traded to Indiana.

Still, the Sixers have trouble defending the perimeter and the penetration of quick guards who can handle. With Irving's absence, look for two former Sixers, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, to get added minutes. They have both played well against the Sixers in past games, although they should be outclassed tonight as the Sixers are boasting their formidable starting lineup.

Look for potential changes to the lineup when injury reports are released at 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. leading up to tip-off.