NEW YORK — Don’t let Jimmy Butler’s drop in scoring the past two games fool you.
The 76ers swingman has been the team’s leader and arguably its most valuable player in the opening-round playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets.
Following a playoff career-high 36 points in Game 1′s 111-102 loss, Butler regretted finishing without an assist. That hasn’t come close to happening since.
In addition to his starting position, the 6-foot-8, 232-pounder served as the team’s backup point guard in Games 2 and 3. Tobias Harris and JJ Redick have been the biggest beneficiaries when the ball is in Butler’s hand. He has made a conscious effort to get them the ball in spots where they thrive the most.
The eighth-year veteran is also playing with a contagious business-like demeanor. He’s locked in for what the Sixers expect is a playoff run that will at least result in their first trip to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals since 2001.
They currently lead the Brooklyn Nets, 2-1, in their best-of-seven opening-round series. Game 4 is 3 p.m. Saturday at the Barclays Center. Sixers star center Joel Embiid, who missed Thursday’s game, is listed as doubtful with tendinitis in his left knee.
But Butler is expected to play a major role with his high basketball IQ, timely passes, rugged defense and veteran leadership.
“I realize that the games are different,” he said of his focus during the postseason. "I know what I’m capable of. I mean, I just do what my team needs me to do to win.
“I get a vibe. I know what makes guys click. I know to make guys do what we need them to do. And on top of everything else, I know how to put guys in a position to be successful.”
That’s because Butler knows where they want the ball.
The four-time All-Star with a tireless work ethic studies his teammates on game film more than he studies himself. He does that as way to keep them happy.
“I know how important it is to have a team,” Butler said. “I can score whenever I want. Don’t get me wrong. But I think when everybody is going and everybody else is happy, our team is a lot smoother that way.”
The 29-year-old showed his scoring prowess with his 36 points on 11-for-22 shooting in the 111-102 loss in the series opener.
But his unheralded plays and passes in Game 2 helped lead the Sixers to a 145-123 rout. Butler finished that game with just seven points and seven assists. Yet, he was a plus-27, meaning the Sixers outscored the Nets by 27 points with him on the floor. Harris (plus-30) was the only player with a higher plus-minus.
Butler followed that up with 16 points, seven assists, two steals and a plus-18 in Thursday’s 131-115 win. Once again, Harris (plus-23) was the only player with a higher one.
“He takes the role seriously,” coach Brett Brown said of Butler as the backup point guard. “He’s trying to get other people involved. He’s trying to get them going. We all kind of get that, as we’ve all seen in the regular season, he’ll save his finest moment for the fourth period.”
Brown was uncertain Friday about Embiid’s availability for Saturday’s game. Embiid participated in a pick-and-roll drill with staff members in the portion of practice available to the media.
Friday was scheduled to be a light day for the players.