Nets' loss to 76ers drops them to seventh in Eastern Conference
The Nets finally reached the end of their seven-game road trip, and the fatigue showed. They trailed the star-studded 76ers by as many as 20 points, received only 42 points from their starting unit and looked as if they were running on fumes at the end of a 123-110 loss Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center.
It was their second straight loss and gave them a 2-5 record on the 17-day trek. The Nets (38-38) fell to seventh in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Pistons. They are a half- game ahead of the eighth-place Heat, one game ahead of the ninth-place Magic and two games ahead of the 10th-place Hornets.
It’s tight, and with six remaining games against teams that currently are in the playoffs, the underdog Nets can’t help but feel playoff pressure.
“It’s a lot of pressure because our goal is to make the playoffs,” said backup center Ed Davis, one of a handful of Nets with playoff experience. “We came this far, and if we don’t make the playoffs, it’s definitely a letdown. If we don’t make it, I know personally, I’ll be devastated, and I think ninety-nine percent of the people in this organization feel the same way.”
With the Nets coming off a 28-win season, few could have imagined them being in this position — six games remaining and still in control of their own destiny. But here they are.
Now the Nets begin a three-game home stretch against three of the top teams in the East, starting Saturday evening against the Celtics, followed by the Bucks on Monday and the Raptors on Wednesday. “The road trip was tough,” Caris LeVert said. “I know everybody can’t wait to get home tonight and sleep in their own beds. That’ll be huge for us to get a day off [Friday] and just compete on Saturday.”
D’Angelo Russell overall had a stellar road trip, but it looked as if fatigue might have been a factor for him in Philly. He was held to 13 points, shot 6-for-19 and committed seven turnovers.
Asked about playoff pressure, Russell said, “There’s a lot. Especially if we’re not winning any, we’re losing our way out of the playoff race. It can easily be that. So it’s a lot of pressure.”
After flying to Philadelphia from Portland, the Nets fell behind 38-23 in the first quarter and struggled to recover. The 76ers (48-27) hit eight of 10 three-pointers in that period and center Joel Embiid was a dominant presence, finishing with 39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick added 18 points and Ben Simmons and Boban Marjanovic each had 16.
Joe Harris had 22 points for the Nets. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came off the bench as a small-five man and had 19 points and 10 rebounds to spark a comeback that got the Nets within 71-65. LeVert had 18 points, but the Nets shot 19-for-29 at the foul line and committed 15 turnovers leading to 18 points for the 76ers.
“You have to take care of the ball,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “That was the No. 1 thing. We handed it to them too many times. Then missed free throws. It’s really bitten us a few games that we could’ve [won].”
Like his players, Atkinson was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed after the cross-country trek.
“We’ve got to recharge our batteries,” he said. “That’s me included . . . We’ve got a great group. I think we’re in a good place to finish the season well.”