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Can Jarrett Allen deliver encore for Nets against 76ers' Joel Embiid?

Jarrett Allen had 19 points, 18 rebounds and

Jarrett Allen had 19 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks vs. Jazz and hope he can do it again vs. 76ers. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Already in his fourth NBA season at the age of 22, Nets center Jarrett Allen is playing the best basketball of his young career. On Tuesday, he regained his starting job and responded by dominating All-Star Jazz center Rudy Gobert with 19 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks of Gobert at the rim in a dominating 34-point win by the Nets (4-4).

The question facing Allen now is whether he can deliver a matching encore against All-Star center Joel Embiid when the NBA-best 76ers (6-1, before facing the Wizards Wednesday night) visit Barclays Center Thursday night. The powerful Embiid has tortured Allen in the past two seasons, averaging 28.7 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots in his past nine appearances against the Nets, including four playoff games.

Allen’s struggles against Embiid undoubtedly contributed to him losing the starting job to veteran DeAndre Jordan last March and for the first seven games. Asked if Allen needs to prove himself against Embiid the way he did against Gobert, Nets coach Steve Nash said, "I hope so. He’s been playing fantastic this season. It’s a unique matchup. [Embiid] is one of the biggest and most talented players in the league.

"There’s not many ‘Embiid-stoppers’ on the planet. So, I just want to see us work together. I want to see him fight and scrap and claw and make it difficult for him and win 50-50 balls, and we have to support him as a team and DJ the same. Hopefully, he has a great performance and is everywhere like he was last night. But it’s a team effort."

Allen insisted there was nothing personal between him and Gobert, but he acknowledged his determination to rise to that standard. "I want to…prove that I can be on that level of a center in the league," Allen said. "He did just get that contract [five years, $205 million] that he earned playing amazing defense and being an offensive threat, so, I just want to prove that I’m on his level."

Of course, Allen and the Nets failed to reach a contract extension before the Dec. 21 deadline, so, he is playing for a new contract this season and has heard his name floated in trade rumors. Jordan replaced him in March for two games after Kenny Atkinson was fired just before the season was paused for COVID-19. Then, Jordan started the first seven games this season before a lineup shakeup by Nash against the Jazz yielded a larger role for Allen, who is averaging 10.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots.

Asked if the chance start fired him up, Allen’s sense of humor came to the fore. "Before the game, I’m normally a pesto on my pasta type of guy," Allen said with a sly smile. "But today, I went with Alfredo sauce, so, I think that was the thing that turned my game on tonight."

No doubt, his teammates will have whatever Allen is eating before taking on the 76ers Thursday night. Certainly, Allen has won their admiration even in his bench role.

Following the Jazz win, Caris LeVert said, "JA is playing great basketball. The whole season, he’s been playing great. But tonight, he definitely took a step forward in his own maturation, playing against one of the best defensive centers in the NBA and outplaying him in my opinion."

Veteran Jeff Green described it as a "statement play" by Allen against Gobert. "JA really came out and handled his business against an All-Star last year in Rudy, signing the deal he just signed. Played tremendous, blocking Rudy’s dunks, layups. He was just all over the place. We credit that victory to his effort in the paint, dominating the paint."

Encore anyone?

New York Sports