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NBA Week: No more excuses for Simmons at legit title favourites Brooklyn

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Expert
17th February, 2022
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Whatever you think about Ben Simmons’ stance in forcing his way out of Philadelphia, the end result could not have worked out better for him.

The 25-year-old Australian three-time All-Star is likely to return to the court next Friday for a Brooklyn franchise which has somehow been rated the favourites to win the championship all season but now truly deserve that title.

That’s not to say the Nets will finally add silverware to their vacant trophy cabinet but everything’s coming up Milhouse for them as the NBA season gets serious for the final stretch of the regular season.

Even despite trading James Harden to the 76ers in last week’s blockbuster trade, they now have the most talented, yet also most combustible, roster with the addition of Simmons, sharpshooter Seth Curry – possibly the most under-rated player in the league, probably due to living in the shadow of his famous brother – and the centre that they’ve lacked in Andre Drummond.

And it’s looking more likely as the season goes on that Kyrie Irving will soon be allowed to play games in New York despite his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Restrictions are easing in the United States and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke earlier this week about how he believes New York City regulations will soon change.

Despite anti-vaxxers receiving little sympathy in the wider community, Irving is actually getting a rough deal in that unvaccinated players from visiting teams are allowed to play in the Barclays Center but he is not.

“This law in New York, the oddity of it to me is that it only applies to home players,” Silver said on ESPN’s Get Up program. “I think if ultimately that rule is about protecting people who are in the arena, it just doesn’t quite make sense to me that an away player who is unvaccinated can play in Barclays but the home player can’t. To me that’s a reason they should take a look at that ordinance.”

New York’s mayor, Eric Adams, followed up Silver’s comments by agreeing the law was unfair but said he was hesitant to change it because he didn’t want to send the wrong message.

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And on top of all this, the Nets do have the not insignificant matter of Kevin Durant due back soon from his knee injury. If he doesn’t return next Friday when Simmons is likely to suit up in the first game after the All-Star break, he won’t be far away.

With Durant, Curry and Boomers legend Patty Mills having a sterling season, the Nets have three of the best sharpshooters in the league even if another three-point specialist, Joe Harris, needs a second surgery on his ankle which would put him out for the rest of their campaign.

Drummond’s addition means they have a defensive presence in the paint for the playoffs when the likes of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia star Joel Embiid or Miami centre Bam Adebayo would have previously feasted on Brooklyn’s lack of an interior force.

And the good thing for Simmons is he just has to do his thing. Although it would have been great on an individual level if he was shipped off to a rebuilding team like Orlando where he would have had to carry a heavy scoring load, he can pretty much replicate his Philadelphia role at Brooklyn and it will fit perfectly with coach Steve Nash’s needs.

While he is unlikely to start shooting jump shots, he needs to show from the get-go that he is not a liability at the free-throw line, which explains why he infamously passed up an open dunk to dish the ball to a teammate in last season’s game-seven Eastern Conference finals loss to Atlanta.

His career free throw percentage is a paltry 59.7% and when the pressure was on in last year’s playoffs, it slumped to a woeful 34.2%.

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Simmons in his Nets introductory media conference on Tuesday claimed that he had been diligently “working non stop” on free throws and he had “definitely” improved in that area – we will soon find out if that translates from the practice court to the arena because opponents will target him until he proves otherwise.

The Nets staged a dramatic comeback on Thursday to overcome a 28-point deficit in beating New York 111-106 to record their second straight win after a 11-game slide with Durant absence and Harden’s feud with Irving boiling over.

In a pointed comment after their win over the Kings earlier this week, Brooklyn role player Bruce Brown said “everybody likes everybody” in the locker room now.

Funnily enough, after being unconvincing title favourites since the pre-season, the Nets have slipped below western giants Phoenix and Golden State in the pecking order after their recent form slump.

Nothing is clearly guaranteed in a stacked Eastern Conference where Brooklyn will have to overcome the heavyweight trio of the Bucks, Sixers and Heat as well as rapidly improving teams like Chicago, Boston and Cleveland.

But with a cohesive roster, Durant and Simmons coming back, and Irving potentially being available for all games, the sky is the limit.

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Aussies in the Big Show

Josh Giddey did it again on Thursday – a third straight triple-double. All in the space of five days – that’s a triple triple-double on the double. The 19-year-old Australian guard posted 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as Oklahoma City Thunder went down 114-106 to San Antonio.

He joins the OG of triple-doubles, Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only two players in NBA history to register three in their rookie season. His effort against the Spurs was his fourth of the season, tying the record set for players under 20 set by Dallas superstar Luka Doncic. It seems only a matter of time before Giddey breaks that record with two months left in the regular season.

Weekend must-watch

Saturday – Rising Stars Challenge, 1pm AEDT

Giddey will be part of Team James Worthy for the new four-team format featuring rookies, sophomores and G-Leaguers in the first game against Team Gary Payton, which also features another NBL rookie of the year in LaMelo Ball.

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Keep an eye out for the 3pm game for Australian young gun Dyson Daniels with the G-League Ignite prospect suiting up for Team Rick Barry against Team Isiah Thomas.

Monday – All Stars game, 12pm AEDT

Team Durant v Team LeBron. It’s clear that James edged out KD in both entertainment value and team selection when they held the All-Star draft but the game itself is always a lottery.

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