National Basketball Association

Ben Simmons spices up Philadelphia 76ers' marquee clash with Brooklyn Nets

April 14

The top seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference will be up for grabs Wednesday evening.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets share the same 33-17 record, tied for best in the East, with a 3.5-game cushion on the third-place Milwaukee Bucks heading into Wednesday's slate of games.

The matchup Wednesday will decide the season series ⁠— and the head-to-head tiebreaker ⁠— between the Sixers and Nets, with both teams having won one of their previous encounters.

It seems like there's plenty of sizzle to this game already, right?

Well, Sixers guard Ben Simmons added some extra pepper to the pot with his comments about the Nets in the lead-up to the game.

Following Monday's 113-95 win against the Dallas Mavericks, Simmons bristled at the idea that the Sixers and Nets were cultivating one of the league's premier rivalries.

"Rivalry? I mean, if they keep that same team, definitely, but it's going to be hard to do that. We're going for the past champs ⁠— the Lakers. They were the ones who won the championship, so you've got to give respect to them."

Simmons called attention to Brooklyn's undoubtedly stacked offense ⁠— headlined by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden ⁠— while taking a dig at the other phase of the game.

"Obviously, Brooklyn has a lot of talent. But at the end of the day, there's only one ball, and you've got to play defense, too."

Yowza.

On "First Things First," Chris Broussard took Simmons to task for missing the mark on his assessment of Brooklyn.

"Ben Simmons does not watch film of opposing teams. Because if he did watch film, he would know that the Brooklyn Nets are sharing and moving the basketball as well as any team in the league. ... And he'd also note that James Harden has been playing point guard better than Ben ever has ... I mean, c'mon, Ben. Have you been paying attention?"

Hear why Chris Broussard believes Ben Simmons needs to watch more tape on the Nets.

With an average of 11.0 assists per game in his 34 played with Brooklyn, Harden has adapted quite nicely to life in New York, showing a willingness to defer to his teammates at the expense of his point total.

His season average ⁠— which includes the eight games he played with the Houston Rockets before hightailing it to Brooklyn ⁠— of 10.9 assists per game would be the second-most he has averaged in a season in his 12-year career.

Conversely, his 25.2 points per game would be his lowest average since 2013-14 (25.4 PPG) and a steep drop from the 34.3 he averaged the past season as the back-to-back-to-back NBA scoring champion.

On the other hand, to Nick Wright, Simmons' comments were right on the money.

Wright pointed out that for all of Brooklyn's success since acquiring Harden, the league has yet to see this "Big 3" play together for an extended period of time.

"Broussard, maybe you ... can get Ben Simmons the video you're saying he should watch of Kyrie, Harden and Durant all sharing the ball playing together ⁠— cause I've been searching for that video as well. ... Since, you know, they've played 187 minutes together."

They won't be adding to that minutes total on Wednesday, either, as two heads of the three-headed dragon were officially ruled out for the contest. Both Durant and Harden were listed on Brooklyn's injury report alongside a host of other Nets players.

As for Simmons, Wright brought up a salient point about what the 24-year-old had to say, suggesting that there might be some underlying salt about the Harden trade. 

If you'll recall, Simmons was firmly entrenched in those trade talks and reportedly could have found himself in Houston, but the Rockets wound up striking a deal with the Nets.

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In Wright's estimation, Simmons is still bothered about the whole ordeal.

"Is some of this Ben Simmons a little, call it salty, because he was almost the one traded for Harden? Yeah, I think so. I think Ben Simmons has a point to prove that Philly was lucky that the trade they reportedly offered was not made. So I do think there is a little extra oomph here for Simmons."

With Simmons bringing salt and a dash of pepper to Wednesday proceedings, an already tasty matchup has that much more flavor.

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