The Philadelphia 76ers drubbed the Mavericks on Monday night, as Joel Embiid dominated with 36 points and seven rebounds, setting up a massive showdown with the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, where the winner will grab hold of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Nets may enter that game on an unplanned back-to-back, as their game in Minnesota was postponed on Monday, with Tuesday emerging as a potential replacement date.
Either way, a Sixers-Nets showdown could very well be a conference finals preview — although Milwaukee will almost certainly have something to say about that — and given the two teams have their core groups locked up for some time, it could become a great rivalry in the East. Ben Simmons, who had eight points, seven assists, and six rebounds on Monday while playing his usual sensational defense, was asked about that Nets matchup and just his thoughts in general on Brooklyn as Philly’s rivals and wasn’t shy about offering his assessment, (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 certainly spicy, if nothing else, although the “one ball” critique has been lobbed at super teams for a long time and the Nets have already shown that their three stars are capable of sharing and dominating when they’re all healthy and on the floor. Still, the defensive critique is certainly the big question mark about Brooklyn, who have struggled with consistency on that end, something they’ll need in seven game series against the top 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.