Reserves take center stage as 76ers, Nets close regular season
The NBA schedule has the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets getting together to end the regular season ... or at least it will be some version of the Atlantic Division teams, at least.
It won't exactly be a preview of the first-round playoff matchup between the teams that will start next weekend in Philadelphia. Instead, the game will see most of each team's main players watching the action from the bench Sunday in Brooklyn.
The Nets (45-36) will face the 76ers (53-28) for the second time in the past five postseasons. Philadelphia won the final four games of their 2019 first-round series before being eliminated by the Toronto Raptors, the eventual NBA champion, in the semifinals in seven games.
After that season, the Nets acquired superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and the duo lasted as teammates until shortly before the All-Star break this season, when both had trade requests granted. The Nets are 13-14 since trading Durant to the Phoenix Suns as part of a four-team deal but are heading into their regular-season finale with one more win than last season and with six victories in their past eight games following a five-game skid that dropped them into seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn needed a win over Orlando or a loss by Miami at Washington on Friday to clinch the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Nets wound up getting both outcomes as they recorded a 101-84 win that ended about 15 minutes after the Wizards beat the Heat.
"I'm extremely proud of this group," said Jacque Vaughn, who replaced Steve Nash as head coach seven games into the season. "It's the way we were able to stay together the entire year and create our own narrative. This group just endured. We chose courage over comfort many times."
Mikal Bridges, who was obtained from Phoenix for Durant, scored 22 points in 37 minutes. Bridges has never missed a game since entering the NBA in 2018 and may play limited minutes Sunday to keep his streak intact.
"Man, it's dope, it's great," Bridges said of his experience in Brooklyn. "Just, it was tough, especially in the beginning. A lot of people are new and trying to learn concepts and figure out, you know, our rotation and what to do out there on the court together. So it was definitely tough for a while, but finally clicking and finally figuring out what we can do out there was dope man. Just happy to be in this position."
Philadelphia clinched the third seed when the Boston Celtics beat the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday to secure the second spot. Joel Embiid scored 21 points in a 129-101 loss to Miami on Thursday and sat out when the Sixers earned a 136-131 overtime win at Atlanta on Friday in a game in which the Hawks shot 55.4 percent.
Embiid is likely to sit again Sunday and will win the scoring title with 33.1 points per game to finish slightly ahead of Dallas star Luka Doncic (32.4), who is not expected to play in the Mavericks' season finale.
Philadelphia also sat Tobias Harris, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and P.J. Tucker on Friday. Without their starters, Jalen McDaniels and Georges Niang scored 24 apiece while Danuel House Jr. added 22 and Jaden Springer contributed a career-high 19.
"I wanted to win the game," Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought it would be good for our guys. I thought this could be an important game for our role players. I was into this. This was a lot of fun."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 8, 2023