James Harden will be on one side. Ben Simmons will be on the other, likely with 76ers fans screaming in his ear.
The Wells Fargo Center will be loud and Jacque Vaughn acknowledged Wednesday’s game had added significance — but not because the Nets and 76ers have become hated rivals.
“More than anything, it’s [because] Philly is a game … above us in the standings, and I think that makes it important,” the Nets head coach said in practice Tuesday. “You’re playing against an Eastern Conference team and you don’t know what the results will be at the end of the year. I think at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.
The Nets come into play as the fourth seed in the East, a half game behind the Bucks and a full game behind the 76ers. Vaughn wanted the focus to be on playoff prospects and not Harden’s first game this season against the Nets, a team he forced out of last season, or Simmons’ second game in Philadelphia. where he became Public Enemy No. 1 after refusing to report to the team.
There are all the ingredients for these two teams to hate each other, including several past altercations between Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid. But Durant, who will miss at least two more weeks with a sprained MCL, disputes any notion of bad blood.
“Rivalries in the NBA aren’t really a thing, in my opinion,” said Durant, who will focus on rehab rather than heading to Philadelphia. “So it’s going to be a battle between every fanbase on social media, but when it comes to the players, it’s another game on the schedule.”
The last time the Nets and 76ers met, Nov. 22, Simmons was booed roundly at his old home but played well. The rest of the Nets didn’t and failed to take down a 76ers team that was missing many of its best players, including Harden, Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.
Vaughn called this game “totally different” than the last, and not just because the 76ers will be healthier.
“I think for us, the mental space that we find ourselves in as a band is totally different,” Vaughn said.
If Embiid fits, it would be his first time playing against Simmons. The former star teammates couldn’t make it work after Simmons played poorly in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Hawks, after which Embiid publicly criticized Simmons’ often reluctance to shoot.
Embiid, who missed the 76ers’ win at Sacramento on Saturday, is questionable with left foot pain.
76ers sniper Furkan Korkmaz was ruled out with right shoulder pain.
The last Nets player on the practice field Tuesday was Nic Claxton, who continued to shoot free throws after his teammates left. Claxton went 6 of 15 from the foul line in Sunday’s win over the Warriors, who committed it multiple times at one point in the game.