The Nets are finished with the preamble. Now comes the playoffs.
And MVP favorite Joel Embiid.
Brooklyn doesn’t have a rivalry with Philadelphia yet, but with the teams’ testy history, the Nets can turn it into one if they can make any real noise in their first-round matchup.
And that will require either slowing down the 76ers’ star, or someone like Mikal Bridges or Nic Claxton playing like a star themselves.
“It’s going to be competitive, the atmosphere there especially,” Claxton told The Post. “It’s going to be fun. You know there’s some history between the teams. But it’s just going to be a real competitive fun series.”
There is plenty of history between the two teams, much of it recent. And juicy.
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There was the feisty 2019 playoff series, when Embiid sowed the seeds for hostilities by nearly decapitating Jarrett Allen in Game 2, then laughing about it with Ben Simmons in a press conference.
When Embiid gave Allen a hard foul in Game 4, Jared Dudley went after him and the teams had to be separated.
Even general manager Sean Marks got fined for entering the officials’ locker room afterward.
And all of that was just a teaser.
The real drama was both Simmons and James Harden demanding moves, leading to last season’s Deadline Day swap.
Simmons didn’t play the rest of last season and has been shut down again this season, robbing fans of seeing him play before the Philadelphia fans or guard Harden or Embiid, whom he had a frosty relationship with as 76ers teammates.
But Claxton will face Embiid after they’d jawed at each other and gotten double technicals in January’s feisty meeting.
In the Nets’ switching scheme he won’t be expected to stop Embiid alone, but he’ll have the biggest burden of slowing the MVP favorite.
“It’s definitely an individual challenge,” Claxton told The Post. “But it’s going to be on the whole team. That’s not just going to be on me to go out and just shut down the MVP. But it’s going to be good for me, it’s going to make me better as a player, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris are the only Nets left from 2019, when Jacque Vaughn was an assistant.
“We need a little more long-standing success to call Philly a true rival, but we’ve had some ironic meetings. I know they had a little beef — Nic and Embiid got into it, and Embiid had elbowed Jarrett, stuff like that. I’d say it’s too early [to be a rivalry],” Dinwiddie said, adding, “It’s no easy task [playing a MVP].”
History underscores that. Since 1990-91, 30 of 32 champions have been led by a past or future MVP, Toronto in 2019 and Detroit in 2004 the only exceptions.
But while the Nets would require an MVP to win a title, they don’t need a star to beat the 76ers, they just need Bridges or Claxton or somebody else to play like one.
“Reputations are made in the playoffs. So if Mikal keeps playing at the level he is he’ll be considered a star at the end of this thing, especially if we can advance or do anything special,” Dinwiddie said. “We have a guy who has the ability to play at that level.”
Bridges averaged 26.1 points for the Nets, but he’ll need to snap his 5-for-36 skid from 3 for the Nets to have any chance.
“They’re capable scorers and they have a lot of guys. It’s not like you can key on the one guy anymore, or the two guys with this team. They’re an efficient team,” Doc Rivers said.
“They say you have to have stars to win the championship; they don’t say you have to have stars to win a series. There’s a big difference. So you have to be ready. The Detroit Pistons, I guess they all turned into stars. And the playoffs is what makes you a star, so there’s three or four guys when this playoffs are over, there are going to be new stars that we don’t even know yet. Let’s hope we don’t create them.”
Both Claxton and Dinwiddie are set to receive bonus money due to incentive clauses in their contracts.
Dinwiddie’s salary went from $18 million to $19.5 million according to former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks, now an ESPN Insider. Claxton’s went from $8.5 million to $9.35 million.
With the standings set after Sunday night’s West Coast games went final, the Nets know their draft slots as well.
The Nets and the Suns — to whom they traded Kevin Durant — ended up with identical 45-37 records. As a result of that Durant deal, the Nets will now have consecutive picks in the first round, at No. 21 and No. 22.
The two are tied in the second round for picks Nos. 51 and 52, so the league will break the tie with a random drawing.
Bridges — who hasn’t missed a game since his junior year in high school — is the first player to appear in 390 straight NBA games since Russell Westbrook from 2008-13. He also became the first player in 31 years to lead the league in minutes in consecutive seasons.
Bridges isn’t the Nets’ only ironman. Radio color analyst Tim Capstraw worked his 1,814th straight game Sunday.
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