Ben Simmons returns to Philadelphia on Wednesday for the first time to play since he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, with tip off at 11.30am (all times AEDT).
The Aussie is sure to receive a hostile reaction from his old fans, having already copped it when he returned there for the first time last season as a member of the Nets while sidelined with injury.
But this will be a whole different ball game as Simmons steps onto the court to officially do battle against his former team.
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“It‘s probably the most hostile environment he’s probably ever going to be in,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn told ESPN. ”And to get over this hurdle would be monumental to where he’s at right now and getting back to the form that he wants to get back to.”
Vaughn also confirmed Simmons pre-game Simmons would return to the starting line-up alongside Nic Claxton.
Simmons has struggled in the early parts of the season at Brooklyn leading to his relegation to the bench while also hampered by a knee issue.
However, he’s broken out his slump in recent games including putting up a season-best 22 points against Memphis on Monday while filling in as starting centre for Nic Claxton.
After failing to score in double figures in any of his first nine games, he’s now scored 11, 15 and 22 points respectively over his last three appearances.
“My mind is telling me, ‘Go be you,’” Simmons told ESPN. ”But then my body’s trying to catch up. So it feels like I’m just progressing each day, each game. Just building up.
“I‘m still trying to get a rhythm, find my pace. It’s easy to be like … before the injury, (I) was one of the best defenders (in the league), and now, I’ve got to relearn a lot of things, rebuild. It takes time, but you move through it.”
It’s come as the Nets have turned around their slow start to the season, winning six of their last nine games to improve to 8-9.
But As much as Simmons impressed in recent performances, his biggest test awaits on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
The 26-year old Simmons sat out all of last season following a trade standoff with the Sixers, and tension between he and the organisation was widely reported on.
Already he received a mix response from fans when he came out to warm up, with some showing love and asking for photos and autographs, while others showed off unfriendly signs and mouthed off.
The general atmosphere though was a stoic one, albeit with a limited crowd.
Showered in boos and expletive-laden chants while dressed in street clothes when he last returned to Philadelphia in March with extra security around the Nets’ bench, the Sixers faithful will no doubt have more to say this time out when the game gets under way.
Simmons himself admitted on Monday he ‘knows what’s coming’ when he makes his official on-court return to Wells Fargo Centre.
It comes against a Philly team missing both James Harden and Joel Embiid to injury, with the latter’s absence to make for a much less spicier matchup given the unease between he Simmons.
Regardless, it’s still a massive game for the Aussie and one he surely would’ve been eyeing for some time.
“What I‘ve always said to him is, ’Let’s just remove basketball for the moment and see who the people are who are genuinely supporting you,’” Nets teammate and fellow Aussie Patty Mills said.
“I think that unfortunately he just didn’t have enough of that from what I saw from afar. So for that game, I just wanted to make sure he had that support. That no matter what happens, I’m there. Literally by your side.”