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Nets topple Sixers without stars

By Kristian Winfield
New York Daily News/TNS

No Kevin Durant, no Kyrie Irving, no Spencer Dinwiddie, no problem.

The Nets, without three of their four best players, defeated the Eastern Conference-best Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, 122-109. They were +450 underdogs entering the night.

Irving’s absence was equal parts peculiar and unexpected. Nets head coach Steve Nash texted his star point guard but received no answer. Irving ultimately was listed as out due to personal reasons.

Sixth man Caris LeVert got the start instead, and turned in one of his best games of the season: 22 points on 9-of-25 shooting from the field to go with 10 assists and seven rebounds. LeVert was able to manufacture offense where the team would have needed Irving, getting by All-Star defender Ben Simmons and finishing over All-Star big man Joel Embiid. Despite the poor shooting performance, his pace and play-making gave the Nets an added advantage.

So did Joe Harris, who had been coming off the bench in recent games given Brooklyn’s roster shortcomings. Harris scored a season-high 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, including 6-of-9 from deep. In the second quarter, he scored 10 consecutive points.

Shake Milton led the way for the 76ers with 24 points and six assists. The Nets had no real answer for Embiid, who finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, but DeAndre Jordan did record a block on Embiid early in the fourth quarter. Simmons had one of his more inefficient games of the early season: just 11 points and two assists on 4-of-13 shooting from the field.

With just under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers emptied his bench.

In fact, one of Nash’s former teammates, Dwight Howard, was Philadelphia’s best player on Thursday. He came off the bench and put up nine points and 12 rebounds, irritating Allen, drawing a technical foul on Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and ultimately leading the charge to help trim an 18-point Nets lead down to just 10. Howard fouled out in the fourth quarter.

The Nets have now won both games they played in Durant’s absence - Durant is still quarantining after being in close contact with a friend who tested positive for the coronavirus. He has registered several negative tests since then and could be available to play as soon as Sunday, Nash said.

The win against the Sixers was the first game of a back-to-back. On Friday, they travel to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies team that beat them earlier in the season.

The Nets tipped off as more than 400 New Yorkers gathered outside of the Nets’ home arena denouncing the actions of Trump-supporting domestic terrorists, calling for the president’s impeachment after Wednesday’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The Brooklyn Nets' Caris LeVert, left, drives as Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers defends during the second half at Barclays Center on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in New York.