As the 2020-21 NBA season enters its home stretch, the battle for top positioning in the Eastern Conference standings is heating up. On Monday, the Philadelphia 76ers snagged the No. 1 spot and a half-game lead over the rival Brooklyn Nets with a blowout win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Less than 24 hours, the Nets drew even with the Sixers once again by blasting the Minnesota Timberwolves.
On Wednesday night, the two teams will meet on the hardwood at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. The winner will gain sole possession — for the time being, at least — of that highly sought-after top seed, in addition to taking the regular-season series.
It’s clear from the level of shade thrown at Brooklyn by one Ben Simmons that he and his Sixers teammates have had this game circled on their calendars for some time. The Nets, on the other hand, may be taking a different approach.
On the eve of the teams’ rubber match, there are serious doubts about the availability of multiple Nets stars. As a result, what might have been one of the biggest games of the year league-wide may be losing a significant measure of sizzle.
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Several Nets Stars May Not Play
Star-studded though the Nets may be, James Harden has arguably been their best player this season. By putting up 25.2 points, 10.9 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest, he may even be a darkhorse MVP candidate.
He’s not expected to play on Wednesday, though.
Harden has missed three straight games with a right hamstring strain. And following his MRI early last week, it was determined that he would miss at least 10 days while he works to recover.
Elsewhere on the roster, Kevin Durant came up big in Brooklyn’s bouncing of the T-Wolves on Tuesday, scoring 31 points. However, his status for the Sixers game has yet to be determined as it comes on the wrong end of a back-to-back set.
As relayed by SNY’s Ian Begley, Nets coach Steve Nash has said his team will have to assess before making a determination on Durant’s availability. He made similar statements in regard to whether or not Kyrie Irving would be suiting up for the contest, via ESPN’s Malika Andrews.
Irving, who is the Nets’ second-leading leading scorer this season behind Durant, missed Tuesday’s game due to personal reasons.
Finally, LaMarcus Aldridge may or may not be rejoining the Nets after being out due to a non-COVID illness.
KD Throws Some Shade of His Own
While Simmons’ comments — he seemingly brushed the notion of a Nets rivalry aside, hinting that the Sixers are going after the defending-champion Lakers — was clearly a dig, he’s not the only one sending messages through the media. Durant is well-versed in the ways of petty warfare, too. And he fired off a doozy after his squad’s latest win.
When asked about the marquee match-up and whether it would play a factor in whether or not he takes the court, he all but dismissed the notion.
“I want to play just to get into the swing of things more so than to pinpoint that match-up,” he said, via the New York Daily News’ Kristian Winfield.
Never mind the fact that the season series, bragging rights and — most importantly — a tiebreaker are all on the line.