3 key matchups in 76ers’ first round series vs. Nets

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

1. Joel Embiid vs. Nic Claxton

The obvious draw here is Joel Embiid, MVP candidate, versus Nic Claxton, Defensive Player of the Year candidate. If the Nets want any chance of winning this series, it starts with Claxton suffocating Embiid on the defensive end. If the Sixers want to win, it starts with Embiid playing healthy, MVP-level basketball on the biggest stage against the best defenders.

Claxton has faired reasonably well against Embiid in the past. He’s a physical post defender with elastic arms, elite instincts, and the force of will necessary to bother a player of Embiid’s caliber. He doesn’t concede space easily and he’s an elite weak-side help defender if Embiid ever cycles off of him.

That said, Embiid is just built like a tank and Claxton is thin. He’s losing the weight battle by a significant margin and there’s a real chance Embiid gets the UGA product into foul trouble early and often. Claxton’s rim protection and ability to switch will go a long way toward stopping the Sixers’ backcourt, but if he can’t stop Embiid straight up, that might not matter.

He will also test Embiid in unique ways defensively. Claxton doesn’t stretch the floor, but he’s an elite rim-runner who moves quickly in space. He will keep Embiid occupied around the basket and in transition, where Claxton is much more comfortable running and gunning than the Sixers’ star big.

3 X-factor Sixers who could surprise us in playoffs. dark. Next