Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is excited to be off to a hot start this season. Individual performance aside, Embiid's Sixers currently possess the NBA's best record at 7-1 after a win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
On Thursday, the Sixers will have a quick turnaround as they're set to play another game against the Brooklyn Nets. While the Nets are one of the tougher Eastern Conference opponents on the Sixers' schedule this season, they won't be at full strength on Thursday.
Nets star forward Kevin Durant is finally fully healed from his Achilles tear, which he suffered two seasons ago. Although he was a part of Brooklyn's organization last season, he sat the year out as he healed up. This year, the Sixers anticipated playing a Durant-led Nets, but that opportunity won't come just yet as he's been ruled out for Thursday's matchup due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Typically, any NBA team would be excited to face a Kevin Durant-less Nets team, but Sixers center Joel Embiid believes the situation is unfortunate. You know the saying, 'If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.'
This year, Embiid is embracing all challenges. And while Philly is currently the best team on paper according to their record, the Sixers center faced reality recently and admitted his team hadn't been truly challenged just yet. Brooklyn still won't be an easy opponent on Thursday without Durant -- but they're definitely better off with him.
"Brooklyn's still good, but they're even better with KD -- that's unfortunate [he won't play]," Embiid said on Wednesday night after defeating the Wizards."I want to see how we react and how we do against top teams."
"The teams we played, they're good teams -- great teams," he continued. "But when you talk about teams that are contenders -- you talk about the Lakers, you talk about the Clippers, Milwaukee. We haven't played any of those teams. I'm excited to see how we go out there, and we definitely gotta do a better job than we did tonight."
Last year, the Sixers did a solid job against the Nets without Durant. In four meetings, Philly went 3-1, with their last loss to Brooklyn occurring over a year ago. The circumstances for Thursday aren't ideal for Embiid, but the situation is out of the big man's control. Shorthanded or not, Brooklyn offers a tough challenge, and the 7-1 Sixers will have all eyes on them as many are curious about how they will respond.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_