Sixers, Nets square off in high-drama reunion

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets square off Thursday for the first time since the blockbuster trade involving James Harden and Ben Simmons.

Harden and Paul Millsap went to the Sixers for Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round draft picks.

Four of the five players are in line to play in Philadelphia but Simmons is relegated to a cheerleading role on the Brooklyn bench. Simmons (back) hasn't played a game since demanding the trade that relocated the 2016 No. 1 pick of the 76ers to the Nets.

Simmons asked for a trade soon after the Sixers were eliminated in the second round of last year's playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks.

Head coach Doc Rivers said he believes that the Sixers owe Simmons a tribute video.

"Ben did a lot of good things here," Rivers said. "It didn't end well, right? Just like marriages and all kinds of other things that don't end well. Ben did a lot of good things here. It's funny, I don't know if we are or not, but if we did, I'd have no issues with it."

Harden was traded after Nets coach Steve Nash said he wouldn't be dealt and told reporters this week he doubts they'll speak in Philadelphia. Kyrie Irving had similar thoughts and said he wishes he and Harden "could've talked like men" about Irving's decision to not be vaccinated and thereby miss every home game this season.

The change of scenery appears to be working out for Harden. He easily has meshed with Joel Embiid to form one of the top combinations in the NBA. In the Sixers' 121-106 win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday, Embiid produced 43 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots while Harden added 16 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, then ran the stadium stairs to get ready for this game.

The Sixers are 5-0 in games in which Harden has been available to play. Having Embiid alongside him opens the offense.

"I just had to go out there and be a playmaker," Harden said. "He (Embiid) had it going from the beginning. I see that. If he needed help, I was there to help him, but 43 points is a pretty good game. I think all of us just tried to fill in where we needed to."

The Nets snapped a four-game losing streak with an impressive 132-121 victory on the road against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.

Irving led the way with nine 3-pointers and 50 points on 15-of-19 shooting.

"You just got to go into that deep place where you aren't distracted by anything that's going on and there's a goal at hand when you step out there," Irving said. "I just get less talkative. I just have a look on my face that I'm just ready to go out there, do what's needed for us to get this win, and join a collective group. We're just sacrificing results. All results."

Irving is still able to play only on the road. With Simmons out and Kevin Durant just getting back from an injury, Irving's presence has been immense on the road.

"He's incredible. He's a career-highlight reel every night," Nash said. "We have a special player on our hands. Tonight he was unbelievably efficient and difficult to defend."

Irving will now look to win this personal matchup against Harden.

Irving and Harden had issues with chemistry on the court following the Nets' deal for Harden with the Houston Rockets. Harden had played a de facto point guard role with the Rockets.

"It's fine. It makes for good stories. It makes for good narratives and good buildup for our league," Irving said. "It's never too personal, but we understand as competitors we want to win the game. But it's not about us and any individual matchups. It's about being a great team and building on what we set out to do."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 10, 2022