The Brooklyn Nets 8-point underdogs at BetMGM have set their sights on stopping All-Star center Joel Embiid from wreaking havoc on the scoreboard as they prepare to face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
An MVP favorite, Embiid’s scoring prowess has been largely attributed to his size, strength and skill. He is averaging an impressive 33 points and 10 rebounds per game. A third of his points come from uncontested free throws, with him averaging about 12 free throws per game, converting on 10 of them.
At seven feet tall, Embiid is a dominant offensive player. He takes advantage of his size and strength to shoot from anywhere on the court. He’s also a threat in pick-and-roll situations and makes a third of his three-point attempts.
The Cameroonian native has been averaging 11.9 free-throw attempts per game this season, which puts him in second place in the NBA. The only player attempting more shots from the free-throw line per game this season is Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks.
In Philadelphia’s last five games against Brooklyn, Embiid has at least nine free throws per game. The strength of the 76ers’ big man will force Brooklyn’s defense to work harder. This will result in more contact and free throws if the team is not being careful.
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn acknowledged the challenge posed by Embiid’s strength and height but highlighted the importance of smart and disciplined defense to stop him.
“You have to be ok with some of the shots that he’s going to take and some that he’s going to make,” Vaughn said Tuesday. “The free ones we can’t give to him: the reach-ins, the tap on the arm, the sweep-through, we’ve just gotta be smart and disciplined in how we guard him.”
Team effort to stop Embiid
While the Nets understand that it will take an extra effort to guard Embiid, they seem optimistic about the individual matchup for starting center Nic Claxton. However, Embiid has been dominant against Claxton’s 10 points and six rebounds.
Meanwhile, Nets star Mikal Bridges, who grew up in Philadelphia as a diehard 76ers fan, is excited to face his childhood team in the playoffs. Bridges is now leading his new team and applying what he had learned from Chris Paul and Devin Booker en route to the NBA Finals when he played for the Pheonix Suns in 2021.
In his first season with the Suns, Bridges established a career-high in points with 14.2 per game. After signing with Brooklyn, he has been on a tear, averaging 26.1 points per game. His impressive shooting has also helped him become one of the league’s most versatile players.
Alongside their efforts to keep Embiid off the free throw line, the Nets will also have their hands full against the Sixers’ other dynamic offensive weapons, including James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and Deanthony Melton.
Bridges is aware of the challenges they will face in the playoffs, but he sees it as an opportunity to improve the team.
“It’s going to be tough for sure. I know how it is: I know how game-planning for top players is. I know being the defender guarding the guy, so I know how the scout can be,” Bridges said about playing against Embiid.
“It’s a challenge. And it’s great, man. It’s great for all of us. All it’s going to do is make us better.”