Ben Simmons insisted the Philadelphia 76ers can win the NBA title this season ahead of their Eastern Conference top-of-the-table clash with the Brooklyn Nets.
The 76ers and the star-studded Nets share 37-17 win-loss records atop the east heading into Wednesday’s blockbuster match, with both franchises having strong claims for championship favouritism.
Philadelphia – swept in the first round of last season’s playoffs, having reached back-to-back Eastern Conference semi-finals under former head coach Brett Brown – have not won the title since 1983, while the Nets are searching for their maiden championship.
Simmons, playing alongside fellow All-Star Joel Embiid in Philadelphia – told ESPN on Tuesday: “I think we can win it all”.
Simmons and the 76ers will come up against a strong Nets side with Kevin Durant back in their ranks following a 23-game injury absence.
Brooklyn will be without former MVP James Harden with a hamstring strain but Kyrie Irving is expected back after missing Tuesday’s 127-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves for personal reasons.
“There’s one ball, there’s one ball and you have to play defence still,” Simmons said of the Nets.
“I take pride in defence. I know if I’m able to get stops and give guys a hard time doing their job then we’re going to be able to go further.
“They have a lot of talent, but at the same time you’ve got to be able to play together as a team.”
Australian star Simmons was forthright in pushing his credentials for this season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year award too, despite stiff opposition from Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert.
Simmons is averaging 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game for Doc Rivers’ 76ers this season.
“I’m one of those guys who can guard one to five,” the 24-year-old Simmons said.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of respect for Rudy. I know what he’s capable of. I know he’s great down there in the paint, but he’s not guarding everybody and that’s just what it is.
“He guarded me in Utah… I had 42 [points] and apparently I’m not a scorer. It is what it is, but I have a lot of respect for him. At the same time, I think it’s mine this year