According to Kevin Durant, the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers isn’t a rivalry yet. But ask just about anyone else they’d strongly disagree with that notion.
Considering the drama and intrigue in the two clubs it’s hard to argue that it already isn’t. The Nets possess perhaps the most hated sports figure in Philadelphia in Ben Simmons, who was already being heckled but Sixers fans when he left the team hotel on Thursday morning to go to shootaround.
And let’s be honest, it’s not as though James Harden is the most popular man in Kings County at the moment.
Beyond that of course, the Nets and 76ers have previously met in the playoff, Philadelphia and New York historically have an antagonistic relationship and both teams’ biggest stars have not been shy about chirping at one another on the court. In December, Embiid and Durant got into a back and forth at the free-throw line and had to be separated by teammates.
The two downplayed the moment after the game and have praised one another’s game in the past, but certainly, that won’t take away from future meetings between the two stars.
“If we play like three, four years in the playoffs against each other, yeah,” Durant said about the potential rivalry. “Until we do that, I don’t think playing a team one time in the playoffs is a rivalry. Not even two. I’d say three or four times makes you a rivalry, and the players got to stay on the same teams.”
Kyrie Irving, who also tried to downplay Thursday’s game against the Sixers, acknowledged where the intrigue came from, but told reporters that it’s not something that the players focus on.
“It makes for good stories. It makes for good narratives. It makes for good build-up for our league,” Irving said. “It’s never too personal, but we understand that as competitors, we want to win this game, and going in there with a resolve, with a focus and just ready for whatever.”
While the Nets have tried to take the high road, the Sixers have embraced the opposite. Daryl Morey told local sports radio that Brooklyn insisted on Andre Drummond being part of the deal because ” I think they (the Nets) are scared about going up against Joel Embiid.”
Danny Green hasn’t been shy about voicing his angst about Simmons in public, including telling the Ryan Rusillo Show that players in the 76ers locker room would openly discuss who they would trade Ben Simmons for. Looking at those comments, are you sure this isn’t a rivalry?
“We have who we have in this locker room and we are happy with who we have in this locker room,” Georges Niang told reporters in Philadelphia on Wednesday, according to Newsday. “(Simmons) knows what he did or what he had to do to get himself right and whether that is right or wrong or indifferent, that’s not my place to speak on. Obviously, I have my thoughts on that.
“If he’s happy where he’s at, then let him be happy. We’re happy we have guys in this locker room who want to be here.”
Simmons’ circumstances have played a lot into the recent uptick in hostilities between the two fanbases, and as much as the Nets have tried to remain even-keeled, they’ll have an extra jump against Philly from here on out. Durant was right that playoffs add an extra layer of hatred between two teams, but so does playing spoiler in the regular season.
Philadelphia can play that role as well and add another layer to it all. Put all of these points together and you certainly have a rivalry there between the Nets and 76ers.