BROOKLYN — In a perfect world the Nets’ first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers would have been a battle between Ben Simmons and James Harden.
Simmons was shut down late in the season and won’t be back until next year, but Brooklyn will get the chance to battle Harden, who once was part of the Nets’ ill-fated Big 3. Considering how much of the lineup has changed since Harden was traded, there isn’t too much of a revenge feel by Brooklyn.
The Nets will need to utilize their energy in trying to defend Harden anyway. Potential MVP candidate Joel Embiid will be the main focus for Brooklyn — the same way Mikal Bridges will be garnering the most attention by the Sixers’ defense — but Harden will present a tough challenge as well for the Nets.
Harden led the league in assists with 10.7 and averaged 21.0 points per game during the regular season. While his stay in Kings County was short, the Nets’ are aware of what he can do on the floor.
“He’s a guy that can have 60 points. He’s a guy that can get 20 assists,” Spencer Dinwiddie said this week. “He’s a guy that can get 25 free throws. He can completely change and alter a game at any point in time, and we’re not taking that lightly by any stretch.”
And that’s not including his ability to be successful from the free-throw line.
“He’s figured out his way,” Nic Claxton said earlier this week. “He’s picking his spots. He’s been solid this year. But you know like I said keeping him off the free throw line and just knowing his tendencies, it’s also going to be a group effort to slow him down as well.”
Claxton said that he has remained in touch with Harden and said that he was “still my brother.” When a reporter asked if his history with the Nets added anything to the series, Claxton shot the notion down.
“Even if Ben was on the court you just go out and compete no matter who it is. Can’t really make something out of nothing. Just go out and have fun,” Claxton said.
Harden will have something to prove when he takes the court on Saturday. The future Hall-of-Famer didn’t make the impact that he had hoped to during the Sixers’ short playoff run in 2022 and told reporters in Philadelphia on Friday that he felt great heading into Game 1.
The Sixers star didn’t play in the final two games of the season and had been working on his conditioning during the week leading up to the start of the series.
“I’m excited, man,” Harden told reporters. “My energy, my pace, my aggressiveness is gonna be better. I’m more comfortable, more confident in what I’m supposed to be doing out there.”
How to watch the first round
Every game of the Nets’ first-round series will air nationally along with a local broadcast. Nets fans can watch the local broadcast team on My9 for Game 1 with YES Network carrying Game 2 and Game 3.
The first three games will also be available to stream on the YES app.