When it comes to the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets have established themselves as the top two teams throughout the year as they've battled for the number one seed.
On Wednesday, the Sixers and the Nets will meet for the third time this year to see who can get upper-hand in the series as it's evened 1-1. While many view the Sixers as playoff contenders this season, the Nets tend to be considered championship contenders and are practically viewed as the No. 1 contenders coming out of the East, despite what the standings say.
The Sixers aren't blind to that notion. However, 76ers star Ben Simmons clarifies that hasn't affected the way he views the Nets. While Simmons is well aware of the talent and championship experience the Nets have on board, he makes it clear that it's the Los Angeles Lakers the Sixers are gunning for, as they're the defending champions.
When it comes to Brooklyn, they might have a high-powered offense -- especially when everybody is healthy -- but Simmons recently pointed out the fact that basketball is won on both ends of the court. And the Brooklyn Nets haven't exactly thrived on that end this season.
“We’re going for the past champs, the Lakers," Simmons said following Monday's win over the Mavericks when asked about Philly's next opponent. "[The Lakers] were the ones that won the championship, so you got to give the respect to them. Obviously, Brooklyn has a lot of talent, but at the end of the day, there’s only one ball, and you gotta play defense, too. We got to come in prepared mentally and physically.”
The "one ball" argument isn't as strong now that we've got a small sample size of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant on the court together. While they are all ball-dominant players, they have proven to be unselfish this year, and because of that, they are dominant on the offensive end while playing together.
Defensively, though, Simmons makes a valid point. At this point in the year, the Brooklyn Nets have a defensive rating of 112.8, which ranks 25th in the league, according to NBA.com. While they have the tools to compete in offensive shootouts, it won't be easy for the Nets to take down a team in a defensive battle.