Is Thursday the birth of a rivalry? If you ask the Nets, then the answer would be no, but Brooklyn’s first trip to Philadelphia to see the 76ers comes amid plenty of anticipation.
Benn Simmons is making his return to the City of Brotherly Love, but the Nets will also see former teammate James Harden for the first time since the blockbuster deal between the Eastern Conference rivals at the deadline. The departure of both Simmons from Philly and Harden from Brooklyn is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Harden became disenchanted in Brooklyn as injuries mounted and Kyrie Irving’s unvaccinated became a larger issue that could impact the team in the playoffs. The Nets have publicly tried to remain even-keeled when it came to the circumstances that led to Harden’s eventual departure.
“You try to look at it from his perspective,” Kevin Durant said. “You look up and (Kyrie Irving) is not playing and then I’m injured. He hasn’t won a championship before, so he’s looking at it. He’s 32 years old, he’s looking at himself and wanting to make a decision to get on a team that can get him to that contending, being the last team standing. You look at it from his perspective and you say it is what it is.
“You can’t really control how somebody feels when you think about it like that. Hopefully, stay healthy and their team stay healthy and we stay healthy, and we have a great year. They have a great year and we can just move on from this.”
Brooklyn’s other superstar and one of the reasons that may have impacted Harden’s move also indicated that he didn’t hold any ill-will towards his former teammate.
“I thought we were in a good swing, but everybody has their own visions starting off seasons,” Irving said. “Everybody has their own visions starting off their careers and ending their careers. If that’s what James wanted, then I respect his decision and that’s just what it is. I wish him nothing but peace and love. We have a great friendship, but it didn’t work out. I wish things could have been communicated better for all of us as men, but hey, no hard feelings here with me or anyone else.”
Harden has returned to the form that the Nets had hoped to get from him when he was still in Brooklyn. Through five games with the Sixers, he has averaged 24.6 points in 36.8 minutes of work.
The rejuvenated Harden has put up 12.4 assists and 7.6 rebounds as well in that time. And keeping him off the line will be very important on Thursday in Philly.
“Well it’s one of the many (points of emphasis) guarding him,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “Obviously he can score three, get to the line as well as getting to the rim. He’s a good playmaker. … He can beat you in many ways.”
Aske if Nash had planned to speak with Harden, the Nets coach told reporters he doesn’t usually talk to opposing players.
The atmosphere in Philadelphia is expected to be extremely hostile with Simmons making his return to the Wells Fargo Center. Still, the Nets are not trying to feed into the hype.
“It’s fun,” Irving said about the atmosphere. “It’s fun. It makes for good stories, it makes for good narratives. It makes for good buildup for our league. It’s never too personal, but we understand that as competitors, we want to win the game. So go in there with a resolve, with a focus and just ready for whatever. We know the Philly crowd’s going to be what it is.
“Everybody likes to build that up, but specifically for us it’s not about any individual matchups. It’s about us going in there and just being a great team and building on what we set out to do.”