The Nets have been sorely tested through their first dozen games.
But Sunday’s matinee at Barclays Center could be their biggest test — literally and figuratively.
“Yeah, we’ve had a pretty good schedule so far with Boston, Cleveland, and now Philly. So it’s been pretty good, and it’s another test for us, so let’s see,” forward Trendon Watford said. “Obviously, we’re still missing two of our better players, so it’s going to be a good test.”
Shorthanded Brooklyn — minus Cam Thomas and former 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons — will host Simmons’ old team. And even though Simmons is out with a bad back, and the man he was traded for — James Harden — has already been dealt away again, Sunday won’t lack for storylines or intensity.
Not after the Nets got swept out of last year’s playoffs by these same 76ers.
“For sure. I don’t think I’ve beat them with [Brooklyn] yet, because they swept us last year. So we definitely look forward to this game. It’s going be fun,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, whose Nets see this tilt as a test. “I know it’s a new year, but we also want to just get better each game.”
Watford noted the same added intensity.
“I know last year they faced each other in the playoffs, and I can feel the intensity. Even when we played them in a preseason it was a little different than the other games,” Watford said. “So I’m looking forward to it.”
Despite having improved their traditionally poor rebounding, the Nets have yet to face anyone like reigning MVP Joel Embiid.
Tyrese Maxey’s emergence just makes Philadelphia (9-3) that much more dangerous.
“It’s because Embiid causes so much trouble,” Finney-Smith said. “You send guys at him, it’s gonna give one of their offensive guys the advantage on the offensive glass because we’re in rotation. That’s just credit to the big fella, man, he causes so much turmoil in the paint.”
The Nets were dominated down low in last season’s sweep.
They were outscored 39-3 in second-chance points through the first two games of that series, the fewest of any team in 25 years according to Elias Sports Bureau.
And the Nets are coming off a poor rebounding effort in Miami, beaten 40-32 on the glass.
“That was one of the things we hit in the Miami film: Our ability to continue to have rebound as a positive for us. A great challenge for us versus Philly, a team that wants to get to the paint, wants to get to the rim,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Can we come back and help each other rebound? Over the course of the year we’re in the green as far as rebounding; we want to stay in the green. But great challenge for us to not let that slide and continue to have maximum effort rebounding the ball.”
After getting beaten by Bam Adebayo and the Heat, Embiid will pose a different challenge.
He comes in averaging 31.9 points and 11.1 rebounds, while Maxey has blossomed with Harden’s departure and is scoring 26.9 points.
“The biggest part is you see a dominant big and a dominant perimeter guy, so that combination,” Vaughn said. “Embiid will be a huge influence in this game, but we also gotta worry about Maxey and his ability to get to the paint.”
With Nic Claxton back, he and Day’Ron Sharpe have the unenviable task of trying to at least slow Embiid.
Finney-Smith has moved back from small-ball five to power forward and gets Tobias Harris, averaging 20.3 points — including a dozen in the paint.
“They’ve got three great players. But Maxey has been playing probably his best basketball. So we’ve got key in on that and got to make it hard for Embiid,” Finney-Smith said.
“Obviously, one of the top two duos in the league with Maxey and Embiid with other great players around them,” Watford said. “They just made a trade so they got Robert Covington, [Nic] Batum, Patrick Beverley. … They’re a great team for a reason. We’ve just got to come out and be us.”