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Embiid ailing as 76ers open series versus Nets

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia 76ers will open the 2019 NBA playoffs at home on Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets, but All-Star center Joel Embiid remains questionable with a sore left knee.

Embiid missed 14 of the final 24 games in the regular season with a combination of knee soreness and load management.

Still, the 76ers won 51 games thanks in large part to several trades by general manager Elton Brand.

The starting five of Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick and Embiid all sat out in the regular season finale against the Chicago Bulls. If this starting five can stay healthy, the No. 3-seeded Sixers will be tough to eliminate.

"I expect our starters to be available," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "If somebody tells me different, then so be it. But I hope my gut feel is right. That's what I expect and if somebody comes up and says that's not going to happen, then I'll deal with it."

Last season, the Sixers defeated the Miami Heat in five games in the opening round before falling to the Boston Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

This year's challenge will begin with the No. 6-seeded Nets, who split four meetings with the Sixers this season.

"I would feel like a coward sitting in front of you all saying, 'My goal is to lose in the second round.' It has to be (the Finals)," Brown said. "We get how hard it is to be the last man standing. We get how hard it will be coming out of the East. We understand the lack of consistency we have been able to generate with our starting five. We understand we are still searching for that bench ... but to me, the goal can't change, and that's the way it is."

The Nets' remarkable turnaround morphed into 42 victories and their first playoff appearance since 2014-15. They won only 28 games a season ago.

Unlike the Sixers, who are now famous for "The Process," which saw them lose 63, 64, 72 and 54 games in four straight seasons before making the playoffs last season, the Nets rebuilt their franchise organically.

"Isn't that the greatest thing about the NBA? They did it one way and we did it the other," Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson said. "That's the beauty of the NBA. There's a lot of different ways to skin a cat.

We took our particular situation and took another approach and here we are playing against each other. It's great."

Atkinson is brutally honest when asked repeatedly about far the Nets have come in such a short amount of time.

"I would say, not ahead of schedule, way ahead of schedule," Atkinson said. "I was expecting year four, year five, that's when we'll start being in the playoff mix. I don't know. Like I said, I think it's a special, special year, special moment and very proud as an organization that we've come this far in a short time."

Guard Spencer Dinwiddie excelled against the Sixers this season with two games of 30 or more points. On Dec. 12, Dinwiddie poured in a career-best 39 points. In four games against Philadelphia, Dinwiddie averaged 23.8 points and shot 57.7 percent from the field.

All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell was solidly consistent against the Sixers, averaging 21.0 points and 7.3 assists per game.

--Field Level Media

Updated April 13, 2019

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