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Sixers host Nets: Ben Simmons returns to Philly, unavailable but on the bench

If KD and Kyrie vs. Harden and Embiid wasn’t enough, Ben Simmons will be on the sidelines too?! Hold me back, fam!

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

We all circled March 10th, 2022 on our calendars just minutes after we were all born.

OK, fine, maybe not. But mere minutes after the James Harden-Ben Simmons trade, just after Sixers nation finished our collective rounds of joyous whooping, just after we all stared in the mirror with clenched fists, squinting, frantically trying to grow Harden beards, then we circled the key date: Simmons’ new team visits Wells fargo Center. He won’t be going to the free throw line to endure a chorus of hatorade because he has a back injury, but it sounds like he’ll at least be sitting on the away bench.

If so, it’s going to be a mad house tonight. I’m thinking like LeBron visits Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat or Kevin Durant visits OKC but wearing yellow. That kind of vibe.

Simmons was drafted first overall by the 76ers in 2016. He went from exhilarating prospect, to frustrating player, to infuriating figure for many fans over the course of the five-ish years he was in Philly.

Harden is here now. He’s been the embodiment of relief the Simmons saga is finally over. But far worse players would have been merely that. He’s also played mostly lights out since he first suited up for the red white and blue. The Sixers are 5-0 in games Harden has appeared in thus far and look like true contenders. They’re now a half game behind the Milwaukee Bucks, sitting in the third place in the East at 40-24.

And as Kevin O’Connor recently wrote: “the 3-seed is the true 1-seed in the Eastern Conference this season,” since that increases the chance teams might dodge these Nets in round one of the playoffs.

And now Simmons joins Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, three former Sixers, all set to be in attendance, the latter two are available to play.

But the key is that fans will get the chance to boo Ben for forcing his way out of town, despite having four more years on his contract.

The Nets (33-33) have had plenty of setbacks this season. They’re in the 8th seed now and seem destined to at least sully if not wreck the path to the finals for some top seed. They continue to hope Kyrie Irving can one day play full-time this season:

Story lines

We’ve noted some already but man, there will be plenty of storylines in this one. This is like a super bowl of NBA themes all in one game and there will be plenty of national coverage to discuss it all.

Joel Embiid is still one of the favorites for MVP. The players vs. their old teams, possible beefs, budding rivalries, playoff implications, etc. There’s mental health stuff and vaccination mandate stuff. Then there’s the #PlayerEmpowerment stuff, where Harden and Simmons basically both did uncomfortable things to get themselves traded. Klutch lead Rich Paul’s name should come up on the telecast at least once.

Someone might complain that Embiid and Harden draw fouls, or even run a “The Process culminated with this trade” thread. Harden basically decided he has a better shot at a chip with Embiid than he did KD and Kyrie. That idea may come up as well.

We’re already prepared for some annoying op-ed’s about how the vicious fanbase that once pelted Santa with snow is now being super mean to a player who was brave enough to speak up about his mental health struggles.

Hopefully, we won’t get too much oversimplified, slanted coverage on a complicated and nuanced situation. Trying to explain, concisely, to non-basketball fans what’s going on here is tricky. I’ve tried and failed.

Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid had some spirited jawing matches even before these teams traded with one another:

The Nets took the first two matches when these teams met, and the Sixers took the third. They’ll look to even the season series in the fourth.

Game odds

The Sixers are -4.5 favorites for the home tilt. As of this writing I do think the Sixers will win the game. But I’m never confident betting against KD and Kyrie. I’d probably pick a player prop. Irving over 2.5 threes at +100 isn’t bad.

The Nets (+500) still have higher title odds on Draft Kings than the Sixers (+650). I find that surprising, but I suppose oddsmakers are still unwilling to count out a team with as much star power as Brooklyn. Or maybe they have intel Irving will be full-time in the near future.

Offensive and defensive ratings

Philadelphia has the 10th best offense, scoring 111.9 points per 100 possessions.

The Nets have the 13th best offense, dropping 111.6 points per 100.

But as you can quickly discern, these year-to-date numbers don’t do either team much justice.

A duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have logged 140 minutes across 5 total games. But the duo’s offensive rating in that span is a predictably high 120 points per 100. That would lead the league, as the top rated offense is the Utah Jazz who put up a robust 115.8 per 100.

Just in case you’re curious, a trio of KD, Irving and Harden logged 32 total minutes for the Nets this season; a scarcity theme which ultimately spelled the end of an era. Their offensive rating as a trio was 129.2.

Oh and here’s a fun fact: there is actually a wild scenario where Irving only appears in five total games the remainder of the season: basically if there’s no change to NYC vaccine rules, and then the Nets visit Toronto for a Play-In game, which they lose, then they host and lose the next game in Brooklyn missing the playoffs entirely. Weirder things have happened.

The Sixers’ year-to-date numbers are also a mite janky. They don’t account for their basically having swapped Curry and Drummond for Harden.

A trio of Harden, Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey have logged 117 minutes and boast a 133.2 offensive rating. That’s really sick and a testament to how well Beard and Process have meshed and how sensational Maxey has been alongside them.

Maxey’s emergence should absolutely strike fear into the hearts of opponents. I can’t believe how good he’s looked lately. Young phenom is the phrase I keep using.

Defensively, the Sixers rank 9th in the league, allowing 109.2 points per 100. The Nets started off hot at the beginning of the year, finding a bit of an identity for themselves on D but, then they fell off a cliff with Durant’s knee injury. He missed 21 straight games and they only won five of them. They now rank 24th overall on D, allowing 112.3 points per 100.

It’s hard to gleam much from a small sample, but a Sixers starting unit of Harden, Embiid, Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, and Tobias Harris have a 130.9 offensive rating and 106.1 defensive rating. Their net rating is a 24.9. In just 87 minutes across 5 games, there’s indication that this unit works, but more importantly, that the Harden, Embiid duo is awesome.

I’m not sure how the Nets will try to match up here. If they win, it will probably have to be because they scored a ton of points. Having watched the Nets very carefully as they lost 17 of their last 21 games, they really don’t have the personnel or cohesion to slow down this version of the Sixers. The best defense the Nets have played this year included some switch-heavy lineups with Nic Claxton in them. Maybe he’ll get some extra burn but he hasn’t been a big factor since Drummond came aboard.

But they still have the scorers who can just go supernova-mode. And perhaps a Seth Curry #RevengeGame narrative to boot.

Injury reports

The status report via Brooklyn for tonight’s game:

LaMarcus Aldridge (right hip impingement) - OUT

David Duke Jr. (G League - two-way) - OUT

Joe Harris (left ankle surgery) - OUT

Day’Ron Sharpe (G League assignment) - OUT

Ben Simmons (return to competition reconditioning/back soreness) - OUT

That last update is the biggest news. Simmons has no timetable to return, reportedly suffering a back flare up while ramping up after his layoff dating back to June of ‘21. Nets GM Sean Marks says maybe by the end of this week he can begin practicing with the team. We’ll see. I do know Sixer fans would have something to say if he ramped up immediately after this contest.

The team has talked about how exposing Ben to tough conditions like Wells Fargo may ultimately be helpful. There is also a report that perhaps Simmons will be on the bench (he wasn’t in the prior two road games) seeking some financial compensation.

As for the Sixers, Danny Green will miss at least a week with a finger laceration:

The rest of the report is pretty clean. With Green out, head coach Doc Rivers may explore other wing options.

From the perspective of the enemy

Let’s look at some quotes from the Nets side of things.

When Ben Simmons was traded he shared the following about his mental health struggles:

“The mental health has nothing to do with just the trade,” Simmons said. “It was a bunch of things that I was dealing with as a person, in my personal life, that I don’t really want to go in depth with.

“It wasn’t about the fans or coaches or comments made by anybody. It was just a personal thing for me that was earlier than that series or even that season that I was dealing with. That organization knew that. It was something that I continue to deal with, and I’m getting there and getting to the right place to get back on the floor.”

After their most recent victory of the Charlotte Hornets, Kevin Durant appeared to throw some shade at loser fans who heckle players:

“A part of the experience of coming to an NBA game is to heckle,” Durant added, “some people don’t even enjoy basketball, their lives are so sh–y they get to just aim it at other people so it’s easy to kinda get that release at a basketball game. Ben understands that.”

Feel free to interpret that as some preemptive Philly-fan shade and boo KD also.

More from Durant on these types of hostile environments, when a loathed player returns to his former arena:

“It’s one of those things you just gotta experience for yourself, embrace it, all the greats have been through being called the worst names in the history of the book,” Durant said. “The good thing about it is that we get a chance to perform and shut the people up. It’s a fun dynamic with fans and players because they really do love us at the end of the day. But apart of their job is to be fans, be fanatics, be radical about the game, about their team. …some of the stuff may go overboard but at the end of the day ain’t nothing gonna happen to us I feel.”

Key assignments and rebounds

As for slowing down the Nets, we figure Matisse Thybulle will get the majority of reps on Kyrie Irving if he avoids foul trouble. That’s no easy task since Irving is coming off a 50 points-on-19 shots uncut gem of a game.

Durant dropped 37 on the Boston Celtics last weekend. Tobias Harris, who has probably played the best defense of his season since Harden came aboard, figures to check Slim Reaper a lot. KD loves to use isolations, screens, two-man action, and walk into indefensible transition triples.

Here, Robert Williams, who is 6’9’’, has a 7’6’’ wingspan, and a 40’’ vertical times his contest absolutely perfectly and KD hardly even seems to notice. Time Lord gets a piece of this on basically anyone else in the league:

It’s a brutal assignment but if Harris just gets a hand up without fouling too often, Rivers will live with the results.

Doubling off the Nets’ non-shooters and mixing in some traps, and zones has been effective against Brooklyn this year. Bruce Brown has picked up his shooting lately but he’s a guy Philly may opt to leave open at times. James Johnson is another.

Neither of these teams are great rebounding squads. For the Sixers that’s an understatement. No team in the league corrals less misses per outing. The Nets are merely average on the glass but away from Barclays Center they really struggle. And not having Aldridge won’t help. LaAutomatic was terrific when they stole an Oct. game in Philly.

It seems like a reasonably safe bet to say the team who wins the rebounding battle will emerge victorious but that’s probably just a correlation, not causal thing.

Holy mackerel, this game should be a fun game.

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets

When: 7:30 pm ET, Mar. 10, 2022

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: TNT Sports

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers

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