The key for the Nets to the rest of a first-round playoff series that is knotted at a game apiece is finding the balance between playing tougher and more physical while also trying not to send Joel Embiid and the 76ers to the foul line for free points. They must find the answer in time for Game 3 Thursday night at Barclays Center to maintain the home-court advantage they gained with a Game 1 road win.
Asked if the Nets must throw the first punch, coach Kenny Atkinson said, “I’m going to stop using the boxing analogy. This is NBA basketball. It’s us being more competitive and aggressive. That’s the real key. You want to use the boxing analogy — we’ve put them on the free-throw line 74 times in two games.
“You have to have the whole package to beat an excellent team like this, and that’s being a little more disciplined with our aggressiveness . . . Use our intelligence and our positioning to keep them off the free-throw line. It’s been a big thorn in our side.”
Atkinson said Jared Dudley (right calf tightness) and Ed Davis (sprained right ankle) both practiced fully and will be available and should make a difference in Game 3.
After Game 2, Embiid said that, if the Nets are going to give him room outside to shoot jump shots, he’s going to take advantage of that space to drive to the basket. Atkinson has no plans to change that strategy because he doesn’t want to chase Embiid to the three-point line.
“We’re going to have to live with some stuff,” Atkinson said, including foul-line jumpers by backup 76ers center Boban Marjanovic because it’s more important to cover outside shooters JJ Redick and Tobias Harris. “I think giving [Embiid] space on the perimeter brings him to us a little more. We can show more of a crowd against him. Right now, I like what we’re doing with that strategy.”