After an impressive win in Atlanta on Saturday night, the Brooklyn Nets (37-26) continue their short road trip on Monday when they visit the slumping Philadelphia 76ers (23-39). The last-place Sixers might be the coldest team in the NBA right now and their once promising playoff hopes have completely faded. Philadelphia is 1-12 in its last 13 games and the only teams they have beaten in the months of February and March are Orlando, Charlotte, and Golden State. The Nets, meanwhile, have won 3 in a row, all in blowout fashion.
The Sixers’ biggest problem this season has been its discontinuity on offense. They score the second fewest points per game in the league and they rarely have a smooth-looking possession. In 2 previous meetings with the Nets this year, Philadelphia lost both. They played a close game in Brooklyn in late December, but that was right in the middle of Avery Johnson’s collapse. The teams met in Philadelphia after P.J. Carlesimo took over and the Nets blew out the Sixers. Expect a similar outcome tonight.
This may be the most important stretch of the season for Brooklyn to this point. After tonight, they play New Orleans, Atlanta, and Detroit before going on their longest road trip of the season. During that time, the Manhattan Knicks will be on the west coast on a road trip of their own. That trip starts tonight in Golden State, and none of their games will be easy. Brooklyn is 4 games behind Manhattan in the loss column in the standings, so it is the Knicks’ race to lose, but without Amare Stoudemire, if the Nets can stay hot, there is a chance at catching Manhattan. Stay tuned.
Injuries: The Sixers are a banged up team. The two players they received in the Dwight Howard trade, Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, are both likely out for the season. In addition, Nick Young will probably miss this game with a sprained ankle. For the Nets, Joe Johnson continues his slow rehab from his heel injury but he will play.
Deron Williams vs. Jrue Holiday. Advantage: Holiday
Jrue Holiday was a first-time all-star this season, and deservedly so, but he is slumping right now. He is only averaging 12 ppg over his last 5 games, down from his season averaging of 19 ppg. It is not a coincidence that the Sixers have lost each of those games. Additionally, he is shooting well under 30% during that span. If the Sixers want any chance to win this game, he will need to step up on offense and start knocking down his shots. Deron Williams, meanwhile, is on a roll. I don’t see why he shouldn’t keep that up tonight.
Joe Johnson vs. Evan Turner. Advantage: Johnson
Like Holiday, Turner has also been slumping during Philadelphia’s 5-game losing streak. He is averaging just 9 ppg in that time, down from his average of 14 ppg. Also, like Turner, he is shooting under 30% over that span. Joe Johnson hasn’t quite returned to his old self since his heel injury. But after this back-to-back, the Nets will have 4 days off for him to recover. Hang in there, Joe.
Gerald Wallace vs. Damien Wilkins. Advantage: Wallace
Damien Wilkins has been hot lately, which is why he started his first game of the season last night in Orlando. Over his last 3 games he is averaging 16 ppg, but is only averaging 3 ppg for the season. If the Sixers want to make him a focus of the offense, he could maybe even score 20 points, but that does not mean the Sixers will win this game. Gerald Wallace will just continue to do his thing: hustle more than anybody else on the team and miss shots.
Reggie Evans vs. Thaddeus Young. Advantage: Young
Young has been the Sixers’ best player by far in March. He has scored at least 14 points in every game and is a double-double threat every night. Also, he has caused problems for the Nets in the past, so he should be the focus of their defense. Perhaps they will move Gerald Wallace onto him. Reggie Evans has played pretty good defense recently and also continues to be a beast on the boards.
Brook Lopez vs. Spencer Hawes. Advantage: Lopez
Without Andrew Bynum, the Sixers have not been able to fill the center void this season. For the last month and a half, Hawes has been starting, but Lavoy Allen will also get playing time. Hawes is simply not a very talented player. He is an awful defender and averages under 7 rebounds per game as a 7’1 center. Brook Lopez should score at least 20 tonight.
Prediction: Nets 97, Sixers 78.
This one’s gonna be a blowout, there’s no question in my mind. The Sixers are coming off a tough loss last night in Orlando, so this will be the second game of a back-to-back while the Nets rested last night. Philadelphia has arguably been the worst team in the NBA over the last month and Brooklyn is playing well right now. I’ll be surprised if the Sixers lose by less than 10 points.