‘There’s Only One Ball’: Sixers’ Ben Simmons Slams Brooklyn Nets

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

Getty Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are bracing for a possible Eastern Conference Finals preview versus the Brooklyn Nets.

It’s nice the Brooklyn Nets have so many prolific scorers, but defense wins championships. And the Philadelphia 76ers have their sights set on stealing the hardware from another team.

Ben Simmons dismissed the notion that he and his Sixers teammates had Wednesday’s game versus Brooklyn circled on their calendars. The Nets have assembled an All-Star roster — James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge — but stopping guys on the defensive end has been a chore for them. While many want to crown Nets-Sixers as the new “it rivalry” in the Eastern Conference, Simmons has his mind on taking the crown from the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Rivalry? I mean if they keep that same team, definitely, but it’s going to be hard to do that,” Simmons told reporters after Monday’s 113-95 win. “We are going for the past champs, the Lakers. They are the ones that won the championship so you got to give respect to them. Brooklyn has a lot of talent but at the end of the day, there’s only one ball and you gotta play defense. So we got to come in prepared mentally.”

Brooklyn ranks sixth-worst in team defense, per Lineups, while the Sixers rank ninth-best in that department. Simmons has been the leading catalyst for Philly as he pushes onward for Defensive Player of the Year. The All-Star point guard wasn’t sure if he’ll be matched up against Kyrie Irving or James Harden on Wednesday, but he’s ready to snuff out either fire. He drove Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic crazy on Monday night with suffocating defense in only 24 minutes.

“For me, I love guarding the best player every night. I take pride in that,” Simmons said. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do. If they want me to guard James [Harden] or Kyrie [Irving], I’m going to take on that challenge.”

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Joel Embiid Wants Tiebreaker Vs. Nets

Joel Embiid mostly agreed with Simmons’ assessment, but he acknowledged that Wednesday’s game carried a little extra weight. The Sixers and Nets have split the season series to date, so the winner would own the tiebreaker. The two Eastern Conference foes don’t play again this year.

“I think it’s more than just a regular game because we’re playing for the No. 1 seed,” Embiid told reporters on Monday. “You never know, we could have the same record at the end of the season so having that tiebreaker is important for us because we really want the No. 1 seed.”

The All-Star center was unguardable against the Mavericks despite wearing a bulky knee brace. Embiid had complained about the brace hindering him in his previous two games, although he has been learning to play on it. He scored 36 points on Monday (in only 26 minutes) and got to the free-throw line 15 times. He was fighting through double teams all night.

“When you got a brace on, it’s hard not to think about it,” Embiid said. “It’s so big and heavy, and it kind of blocks your circulation, your blood flow. It makes you like tired fast so it’s hard to not think about it but that’s something I have to work through.”

He’s quickly putting himself back into the NBA MVP conversation, too. The last time a center won the award was Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 and the thought of breaking that dubious streak has certainly crossed Embiid’s mind.

“He was extremely dominant,” Embiid said of O’Neal in 2000, “and I feel like that’s what I’ve been all season. Just impossible to guard.”

Doc Rivers Not Thinking About Brooklyn

The Sixers were literally on the road for 19 of their last 23 days, book-ending a six-game road trip with a four-game one. Brutal. Sixers coach Doc Rivers was eager to board the plane and get back home following Monday’s win over Dallas. Shockingly, he didn’t even notice that the Sixers’ next opponent was Brooklyn.

“Honestly, until walking into this interview, I didn’t know we played Brooklyn,” Rivers said. “I can tell you, for me, I’m a one game at a time guy and I literally close the book on Dallas when we get on the plane, and I’ll start watching whoever our next opponent is. But it’ll be a big game, fun game for both teams, we’ll see what happens.”

Rivers got the opportunity to rest his starters after Philly built up a 19-point lead to close the third quarter. Guys like Shake Milton, Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Dwight Howard got big minutes to polish off the Mavericks — which was an added bonus for Rivers with Brooklyn looming on the schedule.

“That can’t hurt us,” Rivers said of the rest. “I don’t know what it does, but it can’t hurt us.”

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