The Nets won their first two preseason games in utterly unimpressive fashion, but they were totally embarrassed by an undermanned 76ers team, 115-104, Monday night at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid scored 14 points in just eight first-half minutes and retired for the evening, underlining how poorly the Nets played.
This was the Nets’ third straight preseason game without Kyrie Irving, and it’s time to question how much his absence has distracted them. Their first two wins were over a Lakers team resting all of its stars and over a Bucks team that led until garbage time when both teams pulled their starters.
During the third quarter, the 76ers put together a 13-0 run that built their lead to 28 points, and they held a 100-73 lead at the end of three periods. The Sixers’ lead reached a high of 29 points in the fourth quarter.
Following the game, Nets coach Steve Nash was asked what impact Irving’s continued absence might have on the team. "We have a pretty collaborative environment," Nash said. "We all weigh in and discuss it and make sure we’re making a decision that suits into the group. We’re just trying to take things day by day and learn as much as we can. It’s pretty unprecedented."
The Nets (2-1) were led by Kevin Durant with 23 points and seven rebounds, James Harden added 21 points and Jevon Carter had 16, but they committed 26 turnovers. Furkan Korkmaz topped the 76ers (2-1) with 27 points, and Isaiah Joe added 20, including a 5-for-7 effort from three-point range.
Although this road game marked the last chance for Irving to play before the regular-season opener Oct. 19 in Milwaukee, the Nets left him in Brooklyn after he practiced for the first time in New York on Sunday. Irving was eligible to practice after New York City ruled the Nets’ HSS training facility is a private building not subject to the local COVID-19 vaccine mandate that requires all persons over the age of 12 to be vaccinated in order to enter a public venue.
"We’re just trying to navigate this thing," Nash said of Irving. "We’re just trying to take our time to figure out what everything means."
Several other Nets also sat out, including Nic Claxton (non-COVID illness), LaMarcus Aldridge (rest), DeAndre’ Bembry (dental procedure) and Devontae Cacok (groin soreness). The Sixers had their own issues with Ben Simmons still absent from camp, and they sat out Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, Matthias Thybulle and Shake Milton.
Considering that Irving, who has not specified his vaccination status, is expected to miss every game in New York while the vaccine mandate remains in effect, Nash was asked whether Irving’s role might be reduced to allow his teammates to develop more continuity.
"Maybe that presents itself somewhere down the line, but I wouldn’t imagine so," Nash said. "This is all stuff we have to figure out…because it’s kind of unprecedented."
If the first half was any indication, the Nets have a long way to go. They trailed by an embarrassing 19-point margin, 68-49, while allowing the Sixers to shoot 58.7% from the field.