Now the countdown begins.
The Nets travel to Philadelphia later today for Tuesday’s big game vs. the 76ers. Everyone (other than James Harden) appears ready: the Brooklyn Brigade is sending a delegation to Wells Fargo Center, Philly reporters were spotted at Sunday night’s game and in the post-game interview ... and Ben Simmons is playing his best basketball in 18 months.
After scoring 22 points (on 11-of-13 shooting) and recording eight rebounds and five assists Sunday, Simmons knows that his return to the court in Philadelphia is a big deal. Asked about his emotions about going in the Lions’ Den at Wells Fargo Center, the 26-year-old says he knows what’s coming.
“I’m ready to play,” he said, adding, “Something going on?” a reference to his long goodbye in Philly and fans’ feelings towards him. And when a sports writer asked if maybe time has healed some wounds in the ironically nicknamed City of Brotherly Love, Simmons would have none of it, looking askance at the writer.
“In Philly?” Simmons said, drawing more laughs. “I know what’s coming. That’s part of the game. Philly fans, one thing about Philly fans is they are incredible. They are die-hard Philly and they are everything Philly, whatever it is. I respect that about the city. It’s a sports town. I was talking to I think Yuta [Watanabe] before the game about what it’s like to play in Philly, and it’s an incredible opportunity to put on whatever jersey it is.
“That’s Philly, and it’s a unique experience.”
It won’t be his first time back, of course. Last March 10, he sat on the bench his every move booed vociferously until his Nets teammates put the fans in their place, blowing out the Sixers and making Harden look positively ill.
In addition to knowing what’s coming, Simmons spoke about his relationship with the city, a transplanted Australian basketball player who had been drafted No. 1 overall.
“I was 18 years old coming into Philly, so it’s really the only place I’ve lived as an adult. So I have a lot of love for that city,” he said. “People don’t know that, but a lot of my best friends are from Philadelphia. My brother still lives in Philadelphia. So regardless of the situation, whatever happened, happened. But I got a lot of love for that city still, so I look forward to going down there and playing.”
And as far as we at Ben Simmons Real Estate Watch know, he still have a $3 million condo in Center City.
Indeed, the stats show that Simmons is ready, barring any knee soreness. After not scoring more than nine points through his first 10 games and missing four games because of his knee, Simmons has averaged 16.0 points a game over his last three, shooting 22-of-26 (84.6%) overall, grabbing 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists, all close to his career numbers. He’s even shooting 57.1% from the line, including a 3-of-4 stint late in the Portland game when Chauncey Billups decided to go Hack-a-Ben. Moreover, Simmons has just looked good, looked confident.
“I expect this from Ben,” Kevin Durant said post-game, “So when he plays well, I’m not going to get excited about it.”
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia. Simmons old coach said that even with Joel Embiid out Tuesday, his players will be motivated.
They’ll get their chance. It’ll happen at some point,” said the head coach of a so-far disappointing team. “But it still has to remain, at the end of the day, the 76ers want to beat the Nets, period. And maybe with (Simmons) on there, you want to beat them more. If I was a player, that’s how I would feel. I unfortunately can’t play, and you don’t want to see that.”
The game will also be yet another barometer for the Nets-Sixers trade from last February. Harden had been playing well until he was declared out for a month with a right foot tendon strain. Seth Curry, coming off his own surgery, is picking up the pace, recording two 20+ point games in the last 10 days and shooting 40.0% for the month. The Nets lost Andre Drummond in free agency but used one of the picks they got in the Harden deal (along with most of Harden’s trade exception) to acquire Royce O’Neale. Paul Millsap, who the Sixers also acquired in the trade, is out of the game.
- Ben Simmons has best game for Nets ahead of Philadelphia return - Tim Bontemps - ESPN
- Ben Simmons is prepared for an emotionally charged — and hostile — Philly return: ‘I know what’s coming’ - Keith Pompey - Philadelphia Inquirer