3 things to watch for in Sixers’ preseason opener vs. Nets

James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Sixers vs. Nets (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Sixers vs. Nets (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Sixers-Nets what to watch for: Transition defense

The Nets’ offense should be dangerous enough in the halfcourt thanks to the combined individual brilliance of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. There might not be two more potent isolation scorers in the NBA. That said, the Sixers’ defense really struggled to contain the fast break last season. With Ben Simmons entering the fold, Brooklyn should lean heavily into their run-and-gun potential. That sets up a fascinating preseason litmus test for the new-look Sixers defense.

Simmons is guardable in the halfcourt (Tobias Harris is likely to draw that matchup) but when he’s out and running, that’s when the Sixers’ defense will be under the greatest stress. Brooklyn has a center who can sprint the floor like a gazelle in Nic Claxton, while Durant, Irving, and whoever takes the final starting spot in Curry’s absence (Joe Harris, Patty Mills, Royce O’Neale) will pose significant threats behind the 3-point line. The Nets’ best bet against a bigger, more physical Sixers team is to run them to death. How do the Sixers hold up?

More broadly, it will be our first taste of the Sixers’ revamped defensive rotation. Will P.J. Tucker’s physicality and communication pay immediate dividends? How does De’Anthony Melton look when he inevitably guards Kyrie Irving? With Melton on the floor, does Matisse Thybulle get to spend more time hunting steals and blocks off the ball? There will be plenty to monitor and explore for Doc Rivers and the fanbase.

Brooklyn might be the best offensive team in basketball next season. They have all the personnel necessary to maximize Simmons’ skill set. Durant and Irving put up All-Star level scoring numbers every year. Meanwhile, the Sixers want to be the best defensive team in basketball. This is one heck of trial run.