Brooklyn heads into Philadelphia as nine point underdogs.
The Nets and 76ers will conclude their four-game season series tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. Brooklyn won the first game of the matchup, but Philly has responded by winning their last two games against the Nets. Despite having a losing record, a victory could go a long way in helping Brooklyn solidify their playoff position in the Eastern Conference. As it stands, the Nets are currently the seventh seed in the East. However, the actual matchup between these two teams may not be the most interesting storyline headed into tonight.
In my opinion, the biggest story about this game involves a player who will not be suiting up. It appears Kyrie Irving has once again re-aggravated his shoulder injury which caused him to miss 26 games earlier this season. As a result, the former first round pick is scheduled to see a shoulder specialist this week according to Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. This could be a huge blow to Brooklyn making a potential run deep into the playoffs, since Irving hasn’t played since the beginning of February. Once again, Brooklyn will have to go up against a playoff-caliber team without one of their prize free agents, which could be devastating since Philly has nobody listed on its injury report according to espn.com.
The Nets have underperformed in their games against the 76ers this season. Brooklyn averages 110.5 points per game as well as 48.3 rebounds per game and 24 assists per game this year. All of those numbers have taken a dive when the Nets have faced the 76ers. The Nets have averaged fewer points, rebounds, and assists per game when they have gone up against Philly. The only meaningful statistic that they have done well in against the 76ers has been shooting percentage, which is up to 45.8% from their season average of 44.5%. Factor in the absence of Kyrie Irving, and this game has potential to be disastrous for Brooklyn.
Ben Simmons has been fantastic against the Nets this season. The former number one overall pick put up 34 points on his way to a triple-double the last time these teams met. Furthermore, when you look at the averages, it becomes clear that the former LSU point guard feasts on the Nets. In three games against Brooklyn, Simmons has been averaging 24.7 points, 8.7 assists, and 7.7 rebounds. However, the most impressive stat is that he is doing all of this while shooting the ball over 75% from the field in those match-ups! It is a virtual guarantee that Ben Simmons will have a good night against Brooklyn barring some type of injury or blowout.
What may be even more surprising is that Philly has found success against their division rival without superstar big man Joel Embiid, who has not played in a single game against the Nets this season. The former Kansas big man has missed every game against Brooklyn so far this year due to injury. However, Embiid managed to make it out of the all-star weekend unscathed, so he will be seeing his first action against Brooklyn tonight. This could spell disaster for the Nets, since Brooklyn’s big men have not been all that impressive in their previous three games against Philly. Jarrett Allen and Deandre Jordan are averaging 21.2 points per game combined against Philadelphia this season. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid alone averages 22.9 points per game this year! I have a feeling the combination of Ben Simmons and a healthy Joel Embiid will overwhelm the Nets.
I definitely like the 76ers to win, but the nine point spread puts me in a tricky situation. I firmly believe that division rivals, in any sport, always play each other close. The first time these teams matched up, the Nets won in a 20 point blowout. However, the last two games between these squads were decided by 8.5 points per game on average. We know Ben Simmons will have a big game. It all comes down to how well Joel Embiid will perform against the Nets. When you look at the statistical struggles Brooklyn’s big men have had against Philly, I think it becomes clear that the 76ers are the superior team, and they should easily cover the nine point spread. I like the 76ers to just barely cover the spread tonight.