PHILADELPHIA — The Nets’ poor road record and the Sixers’ stellar home-court edge would make Thursday’s game a tough task.
But after getting bullied by Philadelphia in a testy playoff series last year and blown out in two of their three earlier meetings this season, this game at Wells Fargo Center may mean more than most to the Nets.
“Tough. We’ve had one kind of close game with them and two where they’ve dominated us. And they’re almost invincible at home, so we know it’s tough,” Kenny Atkinson said. “A good challenge. We look at it as an opportunity.”
These teams played that playoff series last April, with Joel Embiid’s vicious elbow to Jarrett Allen’s head — and Jared Dudley charging to his young teammate’s defense — touching off hostilities.
Allen has taken strides in being able to stand his ground against the bigger, bulkier centers that used to rough him up, like Enes Kanter and Andre Drummond. Embiid — who came back from torn ligaments in his left hand on Jan. 28 — is the apex of that group.
“I think it’s a challenge,” Atkinson said. “I think he’s taken steps. I think the Drummond thing, him playing better against stronger guys. I think he’s taken a step.
“He’s 250 pounds now. When he came in, it was 230. There’s a big difference in his physical stature. Big step up in his aggressiveness level. I’m interested to see how he reacts. But we do have DeAndre [Jordan] behind him. That’s nice. That’s a luxury.”
After missing all three meetings with the Nets this season, Embiid is finally healthy. He’s averaging 21 points and 10.4 rebounds since coming back, with reports he’ll ditch the splint on his injured left hand during games and play with just tape.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say looking forward to it because of what happened, but you know, honestly, he’s back — I know his hand is still messed up, he’s wearing the tape — so hopefully it’s going to be a good matchup,” Allen said.
“You can take all that out of it, just the whole playoff series. If you look at it — Jared Dudley, especially Jared Dudley, who could forget Jared bringing the energy and that hyped all of us up. Even the fans got into it and even now going into it everybody is pumped up.”
The Nets are 9-16 on the road, where they’ll play 16 of their final 29 games. Philadelphia is 25-2 at home.