Beneath the Drama, This Nets-76ers Game is a Must-Win for Brooklyn

It’s Ben Simmons’ return to Philly. James Harden is facing his old Brooklyn Nets teammates for the first time as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid is pushing for an MVP. Kevin Durant is returning from injury. Kyrie Irving just popped off for 50 points.

There’s a bushel of drama heading into the March 10 Nets-Sixers matchup.

But beneath all the juicy sagas lies something far more important. Brooklyn is eighth in the Eastern Conference standings and only three games ahead of the 11th-place Washington Wizards.

The Nets need to start winning and keep winning because if they don’t, their media-drenched season could end without a playoff berth.

The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are the NBA’s headliners

March 10 was circled on the calendar the moment the Simmons-Harden swap went down. We’re finally there, and the anticipation has peaked.

The Beard has played five games in Philly. In nearly 37 minutes a night, he’s posting averages of 24.6 points, 12.4 assists, and 7.6 rebounds on better than 53% shooting and nearly 45% from three.

The Sixers have won four of those five games. It’s no surprise, but Harden appears to be rejuvenated after leaving Brooklyn and landing in Philadelphia.

He’s also making his teammates better. Tyrese Maxey has exploded to the tune of 22.6 points on 55.9% shooting and a ridiculous 60.7% shooting from deep on 5.6 attempts per night since The Beard arrived. The MVP is still well within reach for Embiid.

Meanwhile, Simmons hasn’t played a single NBA game for the Brooklyn Nets. He will be on the bench (and is sure to receive a nice chorus of boos) in Philly, but his impact on the Nets is still a complete mystery.

Throw in KD’s return from injury and Kyrie coming off a historically-efficient 50-point performance, and this game is not short on tantalizing storylines.

But the most critical one doesn’t involve an individual. It lies with Brooklyn’s desperate need to win.

Amidst all the drama, this is a must-win game for the Nets

Tonight's NBA game between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers hides the fact that it's a must-win for the Nets.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets look on during Game 4 of an Eastern Conference first-round series against the Boston Celtics. | Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Durant went down with a sprained MCL in January and didn’t return until March 3 in a loss to the East-leading Miami Heat. Kyrie’s 50-piece is the team’s only win since.

The Nets were 6-17 without KD. That was the third-worst record in the NBA during that span. With Irving still a part-time player and Harden replaced with a missing Simmons, Brooklyn dropped to eighth place in the East.

Heading into the matchup with Philadelphia, Durant and his Band of Merry Men are sitting at 33-33.

They’re 2.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the play-in tournament but only 1.5 ahead of the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks, who sit ninth and 10th in the standings.

The Washington Wizards are three games back of Brooklyn as the first team out of the play-in. Small sample size alert, but the Wiz are seventh in the league in scoring in the two games Kristaps Porzingis has played.

To sum it all up, the Nets are not out of the woods yet in terms of a playoff spot. And if they do make it, they’re going to need to make it through the play-in tournament to advance to the “real” postseason.

If the year ended today and the Nets earned the eight seed, they would face a first-round series in Miami. If they can pull that off, the winner of Chicago and the red-hot Boston Celtics would await.

Brooklyn has 16 regular-season games remaining, including tonight’s road game against the Sixers, and Simmons has yet to play. There’s a lot left for the team to figure out before a playoff berth is assured.

At this point, every game for the Nets is a must-win.

Anything short of a playoff run would make this season a startling failure

Brooklyn’s Big Three experiment of Durant, Irving, and Harden played 16 games together and won one playoff series. Then KD got hurt, Irving moved into to a part-time role, and The Beard tanked his way to Philly.

Still, the Nets got a Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star, and three-time All-Defense player in return. Arguably, Big Ben is a better fit alongside Brooklyn’s two remaining stars than Harden was.

Regardless of the seemingly thousands of different sagas that have faced the Nets in 2021-22, the team missing the playoffs would be one of the most epic misfires in NBA history.

The game is nationally televised on TNT. The network’s slogan used to be “We Know Drama.”

They’re certainly getting it tonight. But the Brooklyn Nets need to look past that drama and focus on winning an NBA basketball game.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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