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Nets vs. Sixers: Brooklyn Eyes Home Stretch With Philadelphia Due Sunday

With Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Brooklyn Nets tipped off a string of four straight home games and seven of eight.

“We’ve got to make some money,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson before Friday’s game. “I think we’re seven of eight, seven of the next eight at home if I’m correct. It’s a great opportunity, especially with the schedule we’ve had, tough schedule.”

The stretch is actually just a prelude to a home-heavy December schedule that is generous with limited travel when the Nets do hit the road as well. They’ll be playing 13 of 17 games at Barclays Center through their December 26 home game against Charlotte. The first road game after that seven-of-eight home stretch is at the Knicks. They’ll also be at Philadelphia on December 12. The other two road games before Christmas are at Washington and Chicago.

This follows a heavy travel burden to open the season in which the Nets played 12 of 19 games on the road up through their Thanksgiving Eve game in Dallas, returning home in the early hours of Thanksgiving with an 8-11 record.

“Honestly, it’s the NBA. So as far as far as scheduling goes, it’s something you can’t control,” said D’Angelo Russell after the Dallas game. “Something you shouldn’t really dwell on. We try to prepare as best we can and show up and compete for these games. Schedule’s out of our hands.”

AFTER 20 GAMES

The Nets have hit the quarter-mark of their season with an 8-12 record after 20 games. That’s a winning percentage of .400, ahead of their finish each of the last three seasons, including last year’s .341 (28-54) mark.

“I think like we said, what was the goal this year, incremental improvement, gradual improvement? I do think we’re ahead of last year’s pace, so that’s good,” said Kenny Atkinson after Friday’s game. “Do we want more? Yes. What would I give us? Probably a B. I wish it was an A. But the games like this and there were games where we’ve had a chance and we haven’t been able to do it. But overall, very positive, almost 20 games into the season now. I’m positive. Obviously, losing Caris (LeVert) was a big hit. Think about Caris on a night tonight, it’s like, man, we needed a guy to get downhill a bit. It’s just part of the deal. But again, I think we’re doing all right, headed in the right direction.”

They’ve shown this improvement while navigating that road-heavy schedule and injuries to LeVert, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Allen Crabbe, four of last season’s top six scorers.

“I think our effort’s been there,” said D’Angelo Russell. “We won some of the games we’re supposed to win. I think it’s about capitalizing on those back-to-backs, capitalizing when we don’t have that energy, or we don’t have that step; finding a way to get through it, finish games.”

DEEP SHOOTERS

Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe combined to shot 7-for-19 from 3-point range against the Timberwolves on Friday. It was the fourth straight game with multiple 3-pointers made by Crabbe, who is now shooting 43.9 percent from deep over his last six games since moving into the starting lineup.

Harris was leading the NBA in 3-point shooting as recently as 10 days ago, but had slumped a bit over Brooklyn’s last six games, including a combined 1-for-12 on the two-game pre-Thanksgiving road trip to Miami and Dallas.

Through Friday’s game, Harris is shooting 44.9 percent from 3-point range for the season, tied for 15th in the league. Of the 14 players ranked ahead of Harris, only Stephen Curry has attempted more than Harris’ 107 3-pointers.

“Shooting is all rhythm,” said Harris. “A lot of times all it takes is just a couple to go in, see the ball go in. I got good looks even when I was missing here these last few games. Just staying consistent with it, taking the shots when they’re there and not passing them up.”

ROUND TWO VS. EMBIID

In the first go-round against the Sixers, the Nets held their own against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds, getting just eight shots from the field but going 8-for-10 from the line. Last season, Embiid averaged 23.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in three games against Brooklyn.

The 7-foot, 250-pound center is in the top five in the NBA in both points and rebounds, so he’s giving most teams in the league a lot of trouble, and that applies to several other big men the Nets have struggled with. Even though Jarrett Allen has been in the top 10 in the league in blocks and interior defense and Ed Davis has one of the top rebounding rates in the league, Brooklyn has been susceptible to some monster nights from some of the NBA’s elite offensive big men. On Friday, Karl-Anthony Towns put up 21 points for Minnesota despite having just two at halftime, leading the Timberwolves in their third-quarter takeover.

The Nets have given up 20/20 games to Towns, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Denver’s Andre Drummond. Keeping Embiid off that list again could be a big part of notching another win over the Sixers.

ABOUT THE SIXERS

Philadelphia brings a different look to Brooklyn from Nov. 4, when the Nets handed them a 122-97 loss. They added Jimmy Butler in a trade with Minnesota for Robert Covington and Dario Saric, and after dropping Butler’s debut on Nov. 14, won four straight before Friday night’s loss to Cleveland. The Nets forced 28 turnovers in that win on Nov. 4, and the Sixers rank 26th in the NBA in committing 16.4 turnovers per game. Joel Embiid is fourth in the league in scoring (27.9) and rebounding (13.3) and fifth in blocks (2.0). Ben Simmons is fourth in assists (7.9). JJ Redick is third in the NBA in total 3-pointers made (60) while shooting 35.7 percent.

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