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Nets face star-studded 76ers to finish tough road trip

D'Angelo Russell of the Nets is fouled by

D'Angelo Russell of the Nets is fouled by Jimmy Butler of the 76ers at Barclays Center on Nov. 25, 2018. Credit: Errol Anderson

PHILADELPHIA — The finish line for the Nets’ marathon seven-game, cross-country road trip comes against the 76ers Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center. After going 2-4 through the first six games, including two near misses in the past four, the Nets dearly need another win for a successful trip and to maintain their razor-thin cushion for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

Following a travel day on Tuesday from Portland, the Nets went through a light practice Wednesday at Temple University to prepare for a 76ers team they haven’t seen since the trade that added Long Island native Tobias Harris to a star-studded lineup that already includes Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons.

“He’s the same Tobias we saw with the Clippers — supremely skilled offensively,” Atkinson said. “It’s amazing his progress since he got in the league from where he started to where he is now.

“He’s so much more versatile than he’s been before. He can catch-and-shoot, his pick-and-roll game has really improved, he can go in the post. He can play the four, the three, the two. It’s a huge matchup for us.”

That might be true, but the Nets have been a tough matchup for the 76ers, going 2-1 against the team that would be their opponent if the playoffs started Thursday. Guards Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell have played well against the 76ers because of their driving ability.

“I know Spencer particularly has had some success with the way he drives the ball and D’Angelo,” Atkinson said. “They’re our engine, those guys. A lot of respect to Philly’s defensive game, their length. This is kind of a new Sixers team we’re playing. It changes it a little.”

Allen Crabbe (sore right knee) will miss his sixth straight game, but Atkinson likes how his team has played with DeMarre Carroll starting at small forward, Caris LeVert coming off the bench and Jared Dudley helping the second unit at power forward.

Assessing the road trip so far, Atkinson said, “I think we’re playing good basketball. I’d x-out the Utah game. I didn’t think we played up to our standards. But we had great opportunities to win two more. I think that bodes well for the end of the season. I think we’re in a good spot.”

It’s a five-team race for the final three Eastern Conference playoff spots with only two-and-a-half games separating the Nets in sixth from the Hornets in 10th. “It’ll drive you batty,” Atkinson said of the tightness of the race. “I made a decision. I’m not going to go back and forth and watch scores and watch the standings. If you look at it from the Nets’ perspective, every game is a playoff game for us right now. I just think we have to focus on ourselves and try to get some wins in these last games.”

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