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Sixers beat Nets as Joel Embiid scores 39 points

Embiid also had 13 rebounds and six assists. These performances are becoming routine for the two-time all-star center. For added measure, he hit 3 of 4 three-pointers.

Joel Embiid heads back on defense after scoring a fourth-quarter basket against the Nets.
Joel Embiid heads back on defense after scoring a fourth-quarter basket against the Nets.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

If the season would have ended before Thursday’s game against the 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, the two would have been first-round Eastern Conference playoff opponents.

Of course, there is still plenty of basketball to be played, and quite frankly, the Sixers (48-27) should stay in the No. 3 spot. Meanwhile, the Nets (38-38), who began the evening at No. 6, will likely scratch and claw to make the postseason after Thursday’s 123-110 loss to the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid totaled 39 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. These performances are becoming routine for the Sixers two-time all-star center. For added measure, he hit 3-of-4 three-pointers.

“We might see them in the playoffs in the first round so it was good to see what we got especially coming off those two losses,” Embiid said referring to consecutive road defeats in Atlanta and Orlando.

Embiid’s backup, Boban Marjanovic had 16 points, shooting 6-of-8 from the field. The Sixers also received 18 points from JJ Redick and 16 points and eight assists from Ben Simmons.

Before the game, Sixers coach Brett Brown and the Nets coach Kenny Atkinson both said facing each other would be a bad matchup for their teams.

What did you expect them to say, that it would be a piece of cake?

Give Brown truth serum and ask who would he prefer in the first round, the Nets or Celtics?

Still, one can see Brown’s consternation with facing the Nets.

This year, the Sixers went 2-2 against the Nets and in their previous win over Brooklyn, they needed a Jimmy Butler three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to seal a 127-125 win.

“They are well coached and run a pick-and-roll as well as anybody in the NBA,” Brown said of the Nets. “They have players who can put it on the floor and break you down one-on-one in iso situations or in a pick-and- rolls."

The Nets have a youthful team with plenty of energy. Even after trailing by 20 points in the second quarter, and 18 in the fourth, they kept pecking away.

With eight minutes left, they cut the Sixers lead to 104-94 on a three-pointer by Joe Harris, the NBA leading three-point percentage shooter.

When Embiid scored inside on a feed from Butler to give the Sixers a 118-105 lead with three minutes left, there was finally enough cushion to exhale.

Brooklyn has little margin for error, especially when All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell is having an off-night. Russell scored 13 and shot 6-for-19 with seven turnovers. Harris led the Nets with 22 points.

The win should also halt the panic showed by the Sixers faithful after consecutive road losses.

“The last few games we didn’t play well mainly because of the defensive end,” Embiid said. “When we move the ball and put the ball in the hands of the right people, I think it is fine.”

The Sixers still have plenty of lapses and will certainly use the final seven games for some much needed fine-tuning. They also lost their cool at time, evidenced by technical fouls to Butler, Simmons and Embiid.

“A couple of calls could have gone in a different way and that led to a couple of technical fouls,” Embiid said. “The game becomes more intense and you are [angry] and want to dominate after [that].”

Yet, despite some imperfections, there doesn’t appear to be a potential No. 6 seed capable of beating the Sixers in a first-round playoff series.