The Nets often have struggled to defend the top centers throughout the NBA, but nobody has dominated them as thoroughly as 76ers center Joel Embiid, who averaged 30 points and 14 rebounds in four games against them this season. But Sixers general manager Elton Brand recently said Embiid might miss Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center because of a sore left knee that forced him to miss five of their last seven games.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said after Tuesday’s practice that he expects Embiid to play and has no plans to pressure Embiid to test his balky knee.
“No, I’m afraid it’s what you did with your little brother. ‘Ah, my knee hurts,’ and then the guy gets 50 on you,” Atkinson said. “If he’s out there, we’ll play it normal. I expect him to be full force. If he doesn’t play, we’ll make adjustments.”
Embiid had 39 points and 13 rebounds as the 76ers beat the Nets on March 28 in Philadelphia, and Nets starting center Jarrett Allen had to be benched in that game. Lately, Atkinson has experimented with smaller lineups using power forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Jared Dudley at center. They give up size but can make Embiid work harder on defense.
“Everybody needs help against Embiid,” Atkinson said. “It’s not Jarrett Allen. We have some things in our bag of tricks that we can do that we normally wouldn’t do during the season. We have to use them. If he’s hurting us in the post, we’ll have to look at potential double-teams.”
Dudley said the Nets can mix in a small lineup as a change of pace. “I don’t think with a center like that you can do it for long stretches,” he said. “You need to do it for four to six minutes to go on a little run to change it, but we’re going to need Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis to play strong and play better.”