Sixers defeated Nets despite missing Joel Embiid and James Harden in Ben Simmons return to Philly

The Brooklyn Nets’ problems go far beyond who’s off the field, and Ben Simmons’ return to Philadelphia has shown that to an embarrassing degree.

The Nets entered the game with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons all playing, a rarity in recent weeks. The Philadelphia 76ers entered the game without Joel Embiid (out of two games with a foot injury), James Harden (sprained foot) and Tyrese Maxey (fractured foot).

The Sixers won 115-106.

To put things in perspective, here was the Sixers’ starting lineup: De’Anthony Melton, Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, Montrezl Harrell. Two of those players, Milton and Harrell, were making their second starts of the season.

Meanwhile, Paul Reed and Georges Niang came off the bench to combine for 35 points, more than the entire Nets bench.

It’s hard to reconcile that for the Nets, who fell to 8-10 during the season. Sure, it can take a team a while to get going if the biggest stars haven’t been able to play together for many minutes (even if that problem again was almost entirely due to one of those stars’ decisions), but it doesn’t. such a big challenge as none of those stars played, which the Sixers clearly handled well enough.

The Nets won’t be taken seriously as the contender they should be until they reliably beat teams like an Embiid-and-Harden-less Sixers. That is not an unreasonable expectation.

Ben Simmons’ night started with Jordan shrugging and ended with giving Sixers fans chicken nuggets

Making the night even more embarrassing was the spotlight on Simmons’ second start in Philadelphia since his infamous removal from the team.

The night started well enough for one of Philadelphia’s most hated athletes. There were, of course, boos, there would always be boos. But Simmons posted nine points (3-for-6 shooting), five assists and three rebounds in the first half.

He even threw in Michael Jordan with a shrug after… making two free throws in a row.

That was the good thing for Simmons, who also contributed his usually strong defense.

The bad came in the fourth quarter, when play came away from the Nets. Simmons posted zero points on zero shots with zero rebounds and zero assists (just two blocks) in five minutes into the final frame.

That shrug might also have haunted him in the third quarter, when Simmons missed both free throws and gave the people who booed him a free lunch on Wednesday.

It’s been a humbling season so far for just about everyone involved with the Nets. It should still be possible to turn that ship around – it should always be possible if you have Kevin Durant on your team – but it’s very clear by now that there’s more to winning in the NBA than being sane and good on paper.

Brooklyn Nets' Ben Simmons walks onto the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Tuesday, November 22, 2022, in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Ben Simmons disappeared in the fourth quarter against the Sixers. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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