Nets' Kenny Atkinson Calls Sixers Matchup a 'Nightmare' With Joel Embiid Back

Justin Grasso

Finally, the last stretch of the NBA season is ready to take place. After having more than a week off for the All-Star break, the Philadelphia 76ers are getting back to their regular schedule, starting with a home game against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.

Thursday's matchup will mark the fourth and final time the Sixers face off against Brooklyn this year. Their first matchup against each other resulted in one of the toughest losses for the Sixers at that point in the year. Since then, the Sixers have controlled the series, though.

You would think that the previous two matchups between Philly and Brooklyn wouldn't faze the Nets, but that's simply not the truth. Not only does Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson understand the Sixers are an outstanding team, but he also understands that his squad hasn't seen the best of Philly yet.

Throughout their first three matchups this season, the Sixers have been without their All-Star center, Joel Embiid. During the first matchup against each other, Embiid was out with an illness. Then the other two games fell under Embiid's surgery timetable. Therefore, he wasn't able to appear in those games either.

On Thursday night, though, Embiid is healthier than ever. Not only is he going to play against the Nets, but he's also going to be without a brace on his hand for the first time since his surgery. Typically, teams would give Embiid and the Sixers props and then move on as if they aren't worried about it, but Atkinson took a different route.

"With Embiid healthy, they're a matchup nightmare," Atkinson said to the New York Daily News in regards to the upcoming matchup against Philly. "You've got Embiid, you've got Al [Horford], you got [Ben] Simmons. You've got three guys bigger than 6-10, and you have to figure out how to match up with them. That's our dilemma."

The Nets didn't have any issues matching up with the Sixers for the first time back in December as they destroyed an Embiid-less Philly team in the paint. Since then, the Sixers adjusted to Brooklyn's game though and quickly became the superior opponent, despite being down a key player in the starting lineup.

Anything can happen as both teams return from a week-plus long break. But as the Sixers remain dominant at home with the NBA's highest winning percentage in their own arena, Kenny Atkinson and the Nets know this matchup will be far from easy. The Sixers have an excellent opportunity to come out firing during the final stretch.

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_