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Sixers face Brooklyn squad now without Kevin Durant

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Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Tonight was supposed to be a big test for the first-place Philadelphia 76ers, up against a Brooklyn Nets team that many have now dubbed the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference following the acquisition of All-NBA guard James Harden. Alas, we won’t get to see Brooklyn’s new Big 3 of Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant in action, as Durant won’t be with the team following a bizarre sequence of events yesterday.

After an associate of Durant’s returned an inconclusive COVID-19 test, the Nets star was held out of the starting lineup for Friday night’s game against Toronto. He was then cleared to play and entered the game late in the first quarter, only to then be pulled out again in the third quarter when another test from his associate came back positive. Durant was not pleased.

A lot doesn’t make sense about how the NBA is going about things here. Why was Durant let into the game at all if the league was still waiting on another test to come back? How could no one else from the Nets be considered a close contact after he was in the locker room and on the court with them? I should mention that Durant tested positive for the virus last March, and also already had to sit out a quarantine period earlier this season due to exposure to someone else who had tested positive.

Setting aside all that insanity, the league seems content to throw caution to the wind and plow ahead, so this game remains on track to happen. The Sixers should have Ben Simmons back in the lineup after he sat out Thursday night’s loss due to calf tightness. His presence should help immensely as Philadelphia tries to contain the star duo of Harden and Irving. The Sixers’ struggles defending talented guards are well-documented at this point, and Kyrie and the Beard are basically as tough an assignment as they come.

If the Sixers are to prevail tonight, it will likely be via their ability to go shot-for-shot with Brooklyn’s high-powered offense. The Nets have the fifth-worst Defensive Rating in the NBA (113.4), and have given up at least 120 points in five straight games (going 3-2 across that stretch). After dealing away Jarrett Allen as part of the Harden deal, Brooklyn’s center rotation consists of a long-in-the-tooth DeAndre Jordan and Jeff Green as a small-ball five. Assuming his knee is good after the first-quarter scare against Portland, there’s honestly no better situation for Joel Embiid to finally put up a 50-spot on the scoreboard. We might actually see old friend Norvel Pelle take the floor for Brooklyn just to use his six fouls.

While Durant’s absence means we won’t be able to definitively put to rest who the Eastern Conference favorite should be after tonight, it’s still an important game for the Sixers. Wipe away the memory of Thursday’s extremely lackluster showing, and prove you have some semblance of a plan for how to deal with Harden and Kyrie on the court together. Let’s prove that Philadelphia is not only the team with the best record in the conference, but a true contender.

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
When: 8:00pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Follow: @Liberty_Ballers

Injuries:

Philadelphia: Joel Embiid - questionable (knee); Mike Scott - out (knee); Ben Simmons - probable (calf); Seth Curry - questionable (illness)
Brooklyn: Kevin Durant - out (medical protocols); Tyler Johnson - out (medical protocols); Spencer Dinwiddie - out (knee); Nicolas Claxton - out (knee)


Update: Now Kevin Durant has been upgraded to questionable (how???) and Kyrie Irving is out with a sprained finger.