The Brooklyn Nets' issues go well beyond who's not on the court, and Ben Simmons' return to Philadelphia demonstrated that to an embarrassing extent.
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 two games with a foot injury), James Harden (foot sprain) and Tyrese Maxey (foot fracture).
The Sixers won 115-106.
To put things in perspective, here was the Sixers' starting lineup: De'Anthony Melton, Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, P.J. 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 sugarcoat that for the Nets, who fell to 8-10 on the season. Sure, it can take a while for a team to get going when its biggest stars haven't been able to play many minutes together (even if that issue was almost entirely due to one of those stars' decisions, again), but that's not as big of a challenge as none of those stars playing, which the Sixers clearly handled well enough.
The Nets are not going to be taken seriously as the contender they're supposed to be until they're reliably beating teams like an Embiid-and-Harden-less Sixers. That's not an unreasonable expectation.
Ben Simmons' night started with Jordan shrug, ended with giving Sixers fans chicken nuggets
Making the night even more embarrassing was the spotlight of Simmons' making his second start in Philadelphia since his infamous ejection from the team.
The night started well enough for one of Philadelphia's most hated athletes. There were boos, of course, there were always going to be boos. But Simmons posted nine points (3-of-6 shooting), five assists and three rebounds in the first half.
He even threw in a Michael Jordan shrug after ... making two free throws in a row.
That was the good for Simmons, who also contributed his usually strong defense.
The bad came in the fourth quarter, as the game got away from the Nets. Simmons posted zero points on zero shots with zero rebounds and zero assists (but two blocks) in five minutes in the final frame.
That shrug also might have haunted him in the third quarter, when Simmons missed both free throws and gave the people vociferously booing him a free lunch on Wednesday.
Ben Simmons parting gift to Philly!
Every Sixers fan tonight gets Chick-fil-A nuggets tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/bfaCR6HTIj
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) November 23, 2022
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 when 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 healthy and good on paper.