The 2018/19 Season has finally come to an end. The Sixers finished the season 51-31 and earned the 3rd seed in the East while managing health and roster churn over the long 82 game season. They will face a young Brooklyn Nets team that is new to playoff contention.
Long a struggling franchise shouldering the weight of past ownership and front office moves, the Nets have begun to trend upward. But more than just the Nets regular season success, they are exactly the type of team that the Sixers struggle to defend.
Brett Brown talked Wednesday night after the team completed its regular season at 51-31 and learned that they will face the Nets Saturday at 2:30 in round 1. “The half-court problem that we have had with that style of a team is pick-and-roll defense. It’s deeper than who guards the ball because there are times that when you want to come up like on D’Angelo [Russell]”, like are we going to have the ability to do that with say Joel [Embiid] a lot? That’s challenging.
Brown alludes to the challenge that stepping out on the ball handlers presents with regards to opening up the lob to Jarrett Allen. He continued..
“If you were to make me prioritize the concern, I would just say pick-and-roll defense, I would just go straight to who’s got the ball. Are we going to put JJ [Redick] on it and expend energy with one of our better shooters, one of our better scorers? Do we go with length and Ben Simmons? Do we have Jimmy Butler get physical and play it that way? But that is a decision that is part of the things I think defensively we have yet to really crystallize an answer for. ”
The Brooklyn Nets have been a surprise to many in NBA circles. Prior to the season, most NBA analysts predicted Brooklyn would be well out of the playoff picture. Even FivethirtyEight.com predicted a sub .500 for a Nets team who has failed to make the playoffs since 2015.
But here are the Nets, confidently entering Philadelphia in April positioned in the 6 seed right now and poised to face a Sixers team that they have beaten 2 of 4 previous contests. For context, I should mention that Neither Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris played for the Sixers in those 2 losses.
Truth is, the Nets are a real problem for the Sixers and it starts in the back-court. Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAngelo Russell have combined to score 179 points in those 4 games. Russell is averaging 21.3 and Dinwiddie 24.6 against a Sixers defense that lacks the size and quickness combination to deny penetration.
At a solid 6’6″ with craft, Dinwiddie has been a very tough guard for the Sixers thus far this season. The likely assignment for covering him is Jimmy Butler, but as you can see in these highlights from the 1 game the Sixers won in Brooklyn, Spencer Dinwiddie gave Butler all he could handle.
Dinwiddie gets to the rim at will against the Sixers perimeter defenders historically. He is not afraid to challenge Embiid or anyone else at the rim and finishes through contact fairly well. He has drawn a career high 155 fouls this season smashing his previous high of 115 despite playing in just 66 games. Dinwiddie is the type of player who can simply break the Sixers defense through dribble penetration.
Russell, similarly has size and craft but scores from the perimeter. Not known for his elite speed but rather handles and scoring instincts, D-Lo is scoring 21.2ppg on the season to go along with 7 assists. De’Angelo is comfortable operating in the mid range taking 28% of his shot attempts on the “hill we have chosen to die on” per Brett Brown.
The 6’11” Allen is a legitimate shot blocker and roll/lob threat. He stresses the Sixers defense in the classic way of forcing Embiid or another center to play mostly drop pick and roll coverage versus hedging or closing hard. This gives his guards much more freedom to operate and exploit the weaker Sixers guards.
Anyone who watched Bojan Bogdanovic torch the Sixers with the Nets and now Pacers will recognize Joe Harris’ game. He is shooting 47.2% from three point range on 5 attempts per game this season. His ability to stretch the floor creates additional stresses on the Sixers to stay in front of their guards. Between Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen, it’s fairly easy to see how the Sixers struggle to stop this teams attack.
LeVert, like Dinwiddie came back from a significant injury to help the Nets get to the playoffs. Levert is 6’7 and a long rangy wing. He scored 18 points in the March 28th matchup with the Sixers. His athleticism and handle allow him to attack those lanes which are created by the other Nets players.
The Sixers are very clearly the more talented team and in the NBA playoffs, top talent typically wins out. The Nets have given this team fits for more stylistic and matchup based reasons. As the Sixers struggle to garner some cohesion with a starting lineup that has played just 10 games together, the Nets represent a very dangerous opponent who can exploit communication issues and score the ball often at will.
The Sixers have to be ready for a matchup like this, and a long series will come as a shock to no one within the 76ers organization.