Monday night’s 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets matchup can be described as a meaningless preseason game.
The Sixers were without seven players in their 115-104 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. On a normal night, that would be the main storyline. That, however, took a back seat to Ben Simmons’ possible return to the team as early as this week. The three-time All-Star point guard arrived at the arena on Monday and took his COVID-19 test as required by the NBA’s protocol.
However, there are other requirements before Simmons can return to play. Among them are agreeing to play and also passing a physical.
The Sixers (2-1) want Simmons back with the team once he clears protocol, which lasts five days. If that happens, things could be interesting. Fans in the nosebleed section chanted “[Expletive] Ben Simmons!” late in Monday’s game.
“We’ve said from Day 1 what we wanted,” coach Doc Rivers said prior to Monday’s game. “That we would love to get him back. Other than that, honestly there’s nothing to report. ... Our position hasn’t changed at all.”
Rivers said he’s only spoken to Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Sources have said that Paul and the Sixers’ brass were in communication all weekend in regard to Simmons’ possible return. The coach said the conversations have been good throughout the ordeal.
“So I don’t know if anything has changed,” Rivers said. “But we’ve had very good conversations.”
A league source told The Inquirer recently that Simmons still doesn’t intend to play in a game for the Sixers. He put his place at The Ritz-Carlton Residences of Philadelphia and his Moorestown home up for sale.
Rivers declined to say what he and Paul spoke about this weekend. However, he appeared optimistic that things will work out with the standout player who has been adamant about leaving town.
Nor is Rivers concerned that Simmons will give less than 100% if he returns.
“We’ve been around this before, haven’t we?” Rivers said. “We really have, in different ways. My guess is if and when he comes, I think he will be ready to play.”
Simmons’ teammates have been consistent about stating they would welcome him back. Following Monday’s shootaround, Furkan Korkmaz reiterated he wants to play with Simmons. And Rivers said that wasn’t a concern before the game.
The coach compared Simmons’ return to when he ended a holdout as a player. Back then, Rivers said his teammates welcomed him back and joked with him for the first 10 minutes about missing training camp. Then the focus turned to producing a winning team.
According to Rivers, the Sixers look at Simmons as someone who can help them produce a winner.
Rivers doesn’t know if it’s reasonable to expect Simmons to play next week. The Sixers open the season on Oct. 20 in New Orleans against the Pelicans.
Rivers also doesn’t have a sense one way or the other that something will be resolved this week.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “The conversations have been positive throughout. Even when we disagree. It’s not been any nasty conversations or anything like that. So I’m hoping.”
Joel Embiid added that he’s happy that Simmons has returned to Philadelphia. However, sources close to Simmons have said that the pairing with Embiid “has run its course.”
Embiid was asked if there needs to be any conversation in the locker room if Simmons returns.
“Personally, I haven’t talked to him since the season ended,” Embiid said. “Obviously I tried, but wasn’t successful. A lot of my teammates have [tried].”
Embiid realizes the whole situation is unfortunate, but believes the Sixers are a better team with him on the floor.
“I think there’s going to be some adjustments, but it doesn’t need to be awkward,” he said. “We’re all professionals. We want to win. He gives me the best chance to win, but that’s what I’m going to go with it. ... We’re going to be fine.”
The Embiid Show
Embiid and Danny Green were the Sixers’ only regular starters to participate in the game. Georges Niang, Isaiah Joe, and Korkmaz joined them in the starting lineup against the Nets.
Embiid left his imprint on the game despite playing only the first 8 minutes, 8 seconds.
The 7-foot-2 center scored eight of the Sixers’ first 16 points. His highlight was a circus-like three-point play that gave them a 16-8 lead. Embiid had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go with three assists when he subbed out .
The game was Embiid’s second after missing the preseason opener at Toronto on Oct. 4.
Korkmaz and Joe both had solid performances against the Nets.
Korkmaz showed that he might be able to provide point-guard depth if needed. The swingman got the start at that position due to Simmons’ absence and injuries to Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey.
With the ball in his hands, Korkmaz showed glimpses of his youth as an athletic point guard in his native Turkey. He’s also played the position for the Turkish National team.
The 24-year-old made all the right plays while scoring a game-high 27 points on 11-for-19 shooting to go with four assists, one steal, and one turnover in 32:54. Seventeen of his points came in the first half. Korkmaz did a solid job of finding teammates, pushing tempo, making shots, and playing defense.
It was the Sixers’ best point-guard performance of the preseason.
Meanwhile, Joe made another case for being in the Sixers’ rotation. The shooting guard, who rarely played last season, made 5 of 7 three-pointers and finished with 20 points. He also had three assists.
Green had eight points, four rebounds, and two assists, while Andre Drummond added 16 points off the bench.
Kevin Durant paced Brooklyn (2-1) with 23 points and James Harden added 21.
Injury bug and rest
The Sixers have been hit with the injury bug this preseason with players getting banged up at practice.
“It’s never good for your team,” Rivers said. “You want the guys to play ... we have a bunch of guys that are missing a lot of days. It’s not one day and back. You know Tobias [Harris] is going to be out. Matisse will be out. Shake will be out. That’s a lot.
“And you know Tyrese [Maxey], there’s a little concern, too.”
The Sixers’ biggest competition this preseason has been between Milton and Maxey to be the starting point guard until Simmons returns or is traded. Both players missed Monday’s game with injuries. Milton suffered a sprained ankle on Sunday, and Maxey is dealing with left adductor tightness.
Seth Curry, the starting shooting guard, had the night off to rest. Harris, another starter, missed his second game of the preseason with right knee soreness. The standout power forward knocked knees with a teammate during a practice on Oct. 3. He missed the next day’s game at Toronto before facing the Raptors on Thursday.
Two-way player Grant Riller (right knee surgery) and Thybulle (right shoulder soreness) missed their second consecutive game.
Kyrie Irving was a notable sidelined player for the Nets. The All-Star point guard is listed as not with the team, relating to his COVID-19 vaccination status.