The Brooklyn Nets were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season.
Many projected the Nets to be one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. But despite losing both Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert for extended periods of time, Brooklyn shocked the league by going 42-40, earning the sixth seed and a first round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The biggest storyline heading into this series is the health of 76ers center Joel Embiid.
Embiid has been dealing with increasing pain in his left knee since April 6, so much so that the big man's status for Saturday's Game 1 is currently up in the air.
Nets veteran Jared Dudley joined "Carlin, Maggie and Bart" Friday to discuss the team's playoff matchup, and while Brooklyn fully expects Embiid to play in the series opener, the Nets are prepared to test the health of the big man's knee as much as possible.
"Keep it a fast-paced, high-intensity game where he's having to go out there, guard the pick-and-roll, have to post up and hopefully wear him down," Dudley said to "CMB" about what the Nets' game plan is for Embiid. "We're expecting this to be a long series. Because of that, you want him, by Game 5, Game 6 to be worn out by the pace and physicality that we bring throughout the course of 48 minutes throughout the series."
While the Nets have struggled with guarding dominant big men at times this season, Embiid is not the only player the young Brooklyn squad must focus on slowing down.
Ben Simmons was named an All-Star for the first time this year, averaging 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. However, as talented as the 6-foot-10 point guard is, Simmons has not shown the ability to shoot from the outside thus far in his career.
In fact, the 22-year-old is 0-for-17 from the three-point line in his NBA career while shooting just 60% from the free throw line this year, and despite his overall shooting percentage of 56.3% on the season, most of the damage Simmons has done has come from inside the paint.
When asked about Simmons' shooting skills, Dudley was blunt about what the Nets will do on defense with the tall point guard.
"We will leave him wide open until he proves in this league that he can make it," the veteran said about letting Simmons shoot from the outside. "Right now he's not even attempting it. So we know that he's not going to be able to do that for the most part, so what he's going to try to do is post up, get down hill. That's where he's been at his best. So we have to limit that...
Butler was traded to Philadelphia a few weeks into the season after the 29-year-old demanded a trade from Minnesota towards the end of the summer. Following a two-month public saga, the Timberwolves finally dealt Butler to the 76ers in early November.
Philadelphia wasn't done adding talent though, as GM Elton Brand swung a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers for Harris just a few months later. While the current roster was assembled when Harris was acquired on February 6, the starting five, which also includes veteran JJ Redick, has only played 10 games together due to various injuries.
Despite the talent throughout the 76ers' roster, Brooklyn's veteran leader indicated that having so many star players on one team may not always be a good thing in the playoffs.
"They have four stars. All four can't play well," Dudley said about Philly's core of Embiid, Butler, Simmons and Harris. "Are they mature enough to go a game or two and not play well, and make the extra pass? That's what we're here for, put the test to the limit. We'll see here coming up here shortly...
"This is a team that has four guys that want to do well. That want to play well. Two are free agents and one's looking for an extension, so we know what the task is. We know that they're very much capable of playing well, all of them, any given night. We have to just make it tough. Making it tough on this team has been difficult because they shoot 65% in that paint and we haven't been a good rebounding team. So we have to take our game to the next level if we want to win this series."