The Brooklyn Nets were right to prioritize health above all else — even if it may ultimately cost them the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
The Nets elected to sit Kevin Durant in the second half of a back-to-back set on Wednesday night, and Brooklyn certainly could’ve used its star in a 123-117 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. But the Nets want Durant, James Harden (hamstring) and Kyrie Irving healthy for Game 1 of the postseason and beyond — not a regular-season game in mid-April.
The Sixers (38-17) hold the tiebreaker over the Nets (37-18), meaning Philly is in the driver’s seat to secure homecourt advantage in the East bracket. Of course, Brooklyn had every intention of playing Durant in this clash of East powers, but then the tragic and fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright happened. Monday’s game in Minnesota was moved to Tuesday, taking away the off day.
Durant had just returned from a 23-game absence due to a hamstring injury, so there was no sense taking any chances. The Nets contemplated giving Durant the day off against the Timberwolves — and saving him for Wednesday night — but they ultimately decided to play him. They had just lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, and wanted to get back in the win column. Plus, Durant had just gone back-and-forth with Shannon Sharpe over a fake quote. He proceeded to post 31 points in a blowout victory. There could at least be some feel-good vibes.
With Harden still on the mend from his own hamstring injury, Irving (who missed Monday’s game due to family reasons) was the lone star against the Sixers. He scored 37 points in 33 minutes, but checked out with the Nets down 22 points in the fourth quarter. Then Brooklyn’s reserves nearly pulled off an incredible comeback, forcing a peeved Doc Rivers to bring his starters back into the game to close things out.
“Obviously, Brooklyn has a lot of talent. But at the end of the day, there’s only one ball, and you’ve got to play defense, too,” said Ben Simmons, who may not have been watching the Nets of late.
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Joel Embiid — like Irving — proved unguardable, scoring 39 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. DeAndre Jordan did his best to try and contain Embiid, and his efforts were — if nothing else — commendable. Embiid did exchange words with Durant at one point, and Nets-Sixers — with both teams healthy — would make for a really fun series down the road. During the regular season, Philly rarely saw Durant (zero), Irving (one) and Harden (one). Let’s get seven more games of this.