The 76ers thrashed the Mavericks on Monday night, with Joel Embiid leading the way with 36 points and seven rebounds, setting up a huge clash with the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, with the winner claiming the Eastern Conference’s top spot. The Nets may be playing on an unplanned back-to-back, as their game in Minnesota was postponed on Monday, with Tuesday being suggested as a possible replacement date.
In any case, a Sixers-Nets matchup could be a taste of the conference finals — but Milwaukee would almost certainly have something to say about that — and, considering that the two teams’ core groups have been locked up for some time, it could become a great East rivalry. Ben Simmons, who had eight points, seven assists, and six rebounds on Monday while playing his regular stellar defense, was asked about the Nets matchup and his thoughts on Brooklyn as Philly’s rivals in general, and he wasn’t shy about giving his opinion, (h/t Jackson Frank). “Rivalry? I mean if they keep that same team, definitely, but it’s going to be hard to do that,” Simmons said. “We’re going for the past champs — the Lakers. They were the ones that won the championship so you got to give respect to them. Obviously Brooklyn has a lot of talent, but at the end of the day, there’s only one ball and you got to play defense. We have to come out prepared mentally and physically.”
It’s definitely spicy, even though the “one ball” criticism has been leveled at super teams for a long time, and the Nets have already shown that when all three stars are safe and on the court, they’re capable of sharing and dominating. Still, Brooklyn’s defense is a huge question mark, as the team has struggled with consistency on that end, which will be crucial in seven-game series against the best teams. As Simmons noted, they are immensely talented, and while he’s right that they probably can’t keep Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge long term, any team with Kyrie, KD, and Harden will be a perennial contender, so I don’t think he has to worry too much about whether this can become a rivalry.
In case Brooklyn didn’t have enough motivation with the 1-seed on the line on Wednesday, Simmons certainly gave them reason to get up for this regular season matchup. In a season where we haven’t had many of those big games with both teams mostly at full strength and with something to play for, we should be thankful that Simmons has ensured there’s some added pride on the line for this one.