Ben Simmons rounding into kind, however Nets nonetheless struggling

PHILADELPHIA — Simply three years in the past, the thought of Ben Simmons darting across the Wells Fargo Heart court docket, making performs and wreaking havoc, wouldn’t have been noteworthy. However there he was Tuesday night time, this time in a Brooklyn Nets uniform, standing out for doing precisely that and looking out as near his former self as he has all season.

He was pushing the ball and pressuring his former staff’s protection, diving on the ground and to the rim. When he caught the ball within the paint he seemed on the hoop. When teammates had the ball on the perimeter he reduce to the basket. He was aggressive. He was bouncy. He was quick. All advised, Simmons racked up 11 factors, 11 assists and 7 rebounds in 32 minutes, to associate with three steals and three blocks. He even drained his first two free-throws — which he adopted up with a Michael Jordan-like shrug.

Simmons seemed nice. His Nets, nevertheless, didn’t. Their effort was poor, particularly on protection. They allowed the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been enjoying with out James Harden, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, to drill half of their 32 makes an attempt from deep and seize 20 offensive rebounds. The Nets shot a scorching 55% from the sector — partly due to Simmons’ efficiency — but in addition took 19 fewer photographs than the Sixers. Their switches on screens have been lazy, their rotations sluggish, their box-outs non-existent. The consequence: a 115-106 Sixers win.

“It’s really a mentality of us deciding that we’re going to play defense,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn advised reporters after the sport. “The amount of mistakes we had at halftime was baffling for this group. We had to stop the tape because we didn’t have enough time to show them all.”

Kevin Durant was extra succinct along with his evaluation: “It’s the same s–t. Twenty more shots than us and seven more 3-pointers. That’s the game.”

Simmons’ play was the lone vibrant spot. Eight hundred and eighty-five days had handed since he had final suited up for a recreation on the Wells Fargo Heart Courtroom. You understand the story. How, after an odd 2020 playoff run, one the place he ceased taking pictures the ball, which — relying in your perspective — both contributed or led to a second-round loss to the lower-seeded Atlanta Hawks, he insisted that he’d by no means placed on a Sixers uniform once more. How Sixers head coach Doc Rivers and star Embiid criticized Simmons of their respective postgame press conferences, how Simmons, at occasions citing psychological well being difficulties, refused to affix the staff and demanded a commerce, how the Sixers traded him for Harden, how a again harm prevented Simmons from suiting up for the Nets throughout their stretch run final season, how he got here out this season wanting like his profession is perhaps headed off a cliff.

However Simmons has now appeared to show a nook. This was the fourth-straight recreation the place he seemed near his All-Star former self. The shift started two weeks in the past in Sacramento, the place Simmons, after being demoted from the beginning lineup, went for 11 factors and 5 rebounds off the bench. He adopted that up with a 15-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist efficiency in Portland after which a season-high 22-point output Sunday towards the Memphis Grizzlies. He appears to be like extra explosive and athletic every recreation. He insisted all through the season’s first month that it was his restoration from low season again surgical procedure and early-season knee soreness that was holding him again however that, in current weeks, he’s begun feeling higher, which, he says, has been the catalyst for this turnaround. For the primary time in years, he appears to be like assured and comfy, even upon returning to Philadelphia, a metropolis by which he is aware of he’s not beloved.

“I feel like I’m in a good place,” Simmons mentioned after the loss. “I’m happy I’m doing what I love so to be out there and have that experience was amazing. Obviously it wasn’t the result we wanted, especially to lose a game like that, but you know, I think it’s a good step forward.”

Even throughout the lead-up to his first recreation towards his former staff, Simmons seemed relaxed. He spent his morning media session joking with reporters. When requested by Howard Eskin, certainly one of Philadelphia’s most well-known sportscasters and town’s most vocal and steadfast Simmons critic, what he remembers about his time in Philadelphia, Simmons replied, “I remember you heckling me a lot.” The 2 later posed for a selfie, which Simmons posted on Instagram. When requested what he thought it could be like seeing Embiid, who Simmons has mentioned he hasn’t spoken with for the reason that 2021 playoffs, Simmons replied, “We’re gonna do our secret handshake.”

However he wasn’t all jokes, and didn’t lean humor to deflect tough questions. When requested what he remembers about his time with Embiid, Simmons mentioned, “A lot of highlights, we had a lot of highlights. We had a lot of great times. You know, I got a lot of love for Joe, too. Obviously it didn’t work out, but you know, that’s life. Not everything works in your favor.”

Simmons bought a haircut after the staff’s morning follow, then a bit of beneath 5 hours later strolled onto the ground of the Wells Fargo Heart, his first time doing so not in a Sixers’ uniform. A lot of the enviornment’s seats have been empty. The constructing was quiet. Simmons discovered a seat subsequent to Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn. The 2 chatted for 10 minutes, with Simmons, whereas dribbling a ball behind his legs, nodding. After warming up he signed autographs for followers.

Simmons was booed all through the night time, however the response was extra subdued than when he returned final March with the Nets however didn’t play. “I thought it was going to be louder,” Simmons mentioned after the sport. Perhaps if Embiid had performed the feelings on the ground would have been totally different, and picked up on by the group, however for the second the Sixers and their followers, produce other issues. When will Embiid return? When will Harden? Will the 2 be capable of discover chemistry?

The Nets discover themselves in an analogous place. Simmons is perhaps again to his former self, however the staff doesn’t look like any nearer to fulfilling its preseason expectations. Shedding to a Sixers staff lacking its three greatest gamers is inexcusable. Vaughn, who took over for Steve Nash lower than one month in the past, is already calling out his gamers’ effort.

“We’ll play the guys who want to play hard,” he mentioned after the loss, which dropped the Nets to 8-10.

Simmons, as he mentioned, does look like in a very good place. That’s the excellent news for the Nets. What ought to scare them is that their flaws stay the identical and the losses are nonetheless there even with Simmons rediscovering his recreation.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities and the writer of Tanking to the High: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Course of within the Historical past of Skilled Sports activities. Observe him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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