Nets eyeing takedown of 76ers in Philly

Photo courtesy YES Network

When: 7 p.m. EST

Where: Wells Fargo Center

Watch: YES Network, Fox Sports GO

Listen: 101.9 FM, 660 AM

Photo courtesy YES Network

March Madness is fully underway, but the Nets will be trying to avoid March Sadness (I’ve been saving that one for a long time) on Friday when they face the Philadelphia 76ers. The Nets played the 76ers less than a week ago in a deflating 120-97 loss on Sunday in Brooklyn and will try to split the season series against Philly with a win on Friday night.

Tuesday night’s Nets matchup against the Raptors had its highs and lows. Obviously, D’Angelo Russell’s performance in the first quarter drew eyes around the league, but it was yet another game where the Nets played strong basketball for a big chunk of time against a top-tier team. The Nets held steady against the Raptors for the first two quarters, but could not sustain the scoring (or the defense) in the second half. The win by Toronto gave it their 50th win, led by Jonas Valanciunas pulverizing the Nets’ front line. Against another quality team in Philadelphia, the Nets will need to try to recapture some of their first-half success and apply it to all four quarters.

Here are some things to watch for in Nets-Sixers!

Spencer, Where Art Thou 

Spencer Dinwiddie has been in a slump as of late — he has not scored over 15 points since before the All-Star Break. His shooting numbers have gone down, going only 6-of-38 from three in his last 10 games. Against the Raptors, the shots were not going his way either, with a 2-of-11 performance from the field in a game where the Nets could have used his offensive punch. Dinwiddie needs a big game – or a few made shots — to get his confidence back up.

Some of his struggles may come from taking a secondary role to Russell, and others may come from the minute load he’s played this season – his 1,957 minutes heading into Friday’s matchup leads the Nets. But Dinwiddie is due for a breakout performance. 

Stop the Scoring 

On Sunday, eight out of 11 76ers scored in double-digits (only four Nets did the same on Sunday). Joel Embiid led the way with 21 points, followed by Robert Covington with 19. The Nets’ defense allowed the Sixers to shoot 52.6 percent from the field in an easy victory. Philly’s weapons are well-known by now — Embiid may be impossible for the Nets to defend properly. The Nets have to figure out a way to mitigate Philly’s physical advantage on both ends.

Jonas Valanciunas played with literally no resistance in Toronto’s victory over the Nets Tuesday. Much of that came because of the absence of Jarrett Allen, who missed the game because of a sore foot. The tallest player that took the floor for the Nets was 6-foot, 8-inch Dante Cunningham, who played solid, but was obviously outmatched. If Allen returns to the starting lineup against Philly, the Nets have a better shot of at least containing one of Philly’s supersized versatile players. If not, it could be free pickings for Philly.

Russell for Four Quarters

Russell’s first quarter against the Raptors was mesmerizing — 24 points in the first quarter simply were not human, with most of that damage coming from beyond the arc. But Russell cooled down (in a bad way) in the next few quarters, as Fred VanVleet locked Russell down for the rest of the game. While Russell finished 32 points, he was a bit inconsistent in the second half – it was thrilling and frustrating at points. Is that the sign of a young player, or something bigger?

The Nets’ success against the 76ers could very well rest on the success of Russell for all four quarters. In their previous matchup, Russell scored 26 points, but he was a minus-24 on the +/- on the night, by far the worst on the Nets. Some of that may be due to his defense, which should not suffer at the expense of his offense. Against a 76ers team that has J.J. Redick as the team’s smallest starter, Russell will need to switch and scream out screens on defense – but also keep up the torrid scoring on offense. So far, that has been a tough task.