ATLANTA — The Nets are riding the longest winning streak in the league this season, and their best since 2005-06. And during this run, their best net rating doesn’t belong to high-scoring stars Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving.
It belongs to Ben Simmons.
Coming into Wednesday’s game with the Hawks, Simmons has the team’s best net rating (+21.7) and defensive rating (106.6), as well as even the top offensive rating (127.9) among the regular rotation players. What’s been the secret?
“I think he could probably answer that better. But me as a teammate, just seeing him smile, have fun and be competitive, that’s him being himself,” Irving said of Simmons. “So anytime he could just be himself and trust that we have his back, I feel like he’s the best version of himself.”
That best version of himself is what Brooklyn expected at last season’s trade deadline when the Nets shipped former MVP James Harden to Philadelphia for him.
The Nets are figuring out how to move around the high-IQ Simmons and play off him in ways that allow him to not just coexist with fellow non-shooter Nic Claxton, but actually thrive when need be. And on the other end, he’s starting to look like the star who was once runner-up for defensive player of the year honor.
After Jazz star Donovan Mitchell was perceived to have thrown shade at Simmons in the offseason, Simmons helped hold him to 15 points on just 5 of 16 shooting Monday night, barely half of his usual gaudy 28.9 average.
Now there are reports that Harden could look to leave Philadelphia in free agency. After forcing his way off the Rockets and Nets, if he bolts the 76ers as well, he’ll start to look as flighty as a Kardashian’s dating history.
Seth Curry, who missed Monday’s win in Cleveland, has been upgraded to probable with a non-COVID illness. Joe Harris remained back in Brooklyn nursing a sore left knee, with his status for Saturday in Charlotte up in the air.
David Duke Jr., Kessler Edwards, Day’Ron Sharpe and Alondes Williams were all out versus the Hawks, on G-League assignment.
The last time the Nets won nine straight there was a surprising common denominator. Current coach Jacque Vaughn was a backup point guard on that team, and the victory came against Phoenix star Steve Nash — who was Vaughn’s boss and predecessor until parting ways with Brooklyn on Nov. 1.
Yuta Watanabe is shooting .686 (24 of 35) on corner 3-pointers, the best in the league of anybody who has taken over 20. He’s 11 of 18 from the right, and a near-automatic 13 of 17 from the left.
Royce O’Neale is 14 of 21 from behind the arc in his last four games.
Kyrie Irving donated another $15,000 to a GoFundMe for a Long Island man who lost his Southampton house in a fire.
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