Coach Kenny Atkinson was looking forward to a dress rehearsal for the regular season on Wednesday night when he brought his 3-0 Nets to Nassau Coliseum, a place near and dear to the Northport native whose last visit came in 1985 when he led a team of Long Island high school All-Stars to a win over New York City in the Newsday Classic.
Much to Atkinson’s chagrin, the Nets’ preseason finale turned into an undressing. One day after signing a five-year rookie scale maximum extension worth $148 million, Philadelphia center Joel Embiid made his preseason debut, scoring 22 points and adding seven rebounds in just under 15 minutes of a 133-114 victory over the Nets.
After jumping to an early 10-point lead, the Nets (3-1) went stone cold while the 76ers (1-3) went on a 27-1 run that lasted into the second period as they built a 38-22 lead. It only got worse from there. The 76ers led by as much as 36 points and got 26 points and nine rebounds from Dario Saric off the bench.
“Listen, it’s a great wake-up call,” Atkinson said. “I’m going to turn this into a positive. Maybe going through the preseason 4-0, we’d think we’re a juggernaut. Really, we have a long way to go. It’s disappointing because I thought we were playing well.”
Embiid scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half and made 14 of 18 foul shots, getting to the line 16 times in the first half alone. After becoming the third overall pick of the 2014 draft, Embiid missed his first two seasons with a foot injury, and he was limited to 31 games last season by a knee injury. But when healthy, he’s a massive force.
“He’s a top player in this league already,” Atkinson said. “There’s no denying it. He’s going to be a handful for everybody in this league, and he’s unique because he can go in the post and go out and he’s fast. I think the big real compliment is how he competes defensively.”
D’Angelo Russell, who topped the Nets with 24 points on 9-for-20 shooting in 24 minutes, described Embiid a combination of all-time great big men Shaquille O’Neal and Dirk Nowitzki.
“I don’t see any flaws in his game,” Russell said. “He’s as big as Shaq. He can shoot it like Dirk. He’s got the whole package. He’s going to make some noise this year.”
The Nets, who also got double-figures scoring from Caris LeVert (16), Jeremy Lin (14), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (12) and Allen Crabbe (10), also are hoping to surprise this season. But their enthusiasm was tempered.
“I think maybe we got a little bit too comfortable,” Lin said. “I’m glad it happened because now we should have an edge about us, and this is a good reminder we can’t ever lose that.”