The Brooklyn Nets will face off against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. With Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in the fold, the 76ers have the most star-studded starting 5 in the Eastern Conference. Though injuries have limited how much that group has gotten to play together, they’ve been elite – in 161 minutes on the court together, they have a +17.6 net rating. That’s incredible.
The problem comes when the reserves come in. Thanks to those trades midseason, their bench has been left very thin. They crumble with Joel Embiid off the floor, even when the other starters are out there. That +17.6 lineup plummets to a +4 net rating when you take Embiid off the floor (and the 219-minute sample size means this isn’t a fluke). Take more starters off and it just gets worse. Their bench is paper thin.
The Nets, meanwhile, are a surprisingly deep team. And D’Angelo Russell – a quick, shifty point guard – is the exact kind of player that gives the 76ers trouble. They have no natural defender to throw on him – Butler and Simmons are better suited to guard larger wings, and Redick is a defensive sieve at this point in his career. That helps explain why the 76ers defensive rating balloons from 108.9 to 117.2 when they play the Nets. And while the 76ers have the higher seed, the Nets enter the playoffs slightly ahead in net rating in their last 15 games. Momentum matters.
Nobody can say with a straight face that the Nets are more talented than the 76ers, but there are enough interesting matchup problems and internal issues with the 76ers that this series might be close.