As the Philadelphia 76ers vie for their first championship since 1983, gaining the top seeding and homecourt advantage in the playoffs would help.
And once the Sixers moved into a tie with Brooklyn for first place in the Eastern Conference, their Wednesday night matchup with the Nets in Philadelphia became arguably their most important game all season.
But they're also looking at the future.
"We're going for the past champs, the Lakers. They were the ones that won the championship, so you got to give the respect to them," Ben Simmons said. "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 teams have split a pair of matchups, but there does appear to be a natural rivalry developing.
"I think it's more than a rivalry game because there's a number one seed in play," said Joel Embiid, who had 36 points and seven rebounds in only 26 minutes Monday in a 113-95 win in Dallas. "We got a tiebreaker that we need. They've been playing well; we've been playing well. We've been winning games; they've been winning games. No one seemed to want to lose any game, so you never know. ... We want the number one seed."
If Furkan Korkmaz continues to produce off the bench like he did against the Mavericks, the Sixers will have a much better chance at earning the top seed. Korkmaz had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
"He's been great. He has great rhythm and he's doing less," coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought he went through that stretch when he tried to do too much with the ball and now he's not."
The Nets had their Monday night game in Minnesota rescheduled to Tuesday afternoon, a game they won by 30, so they will be operating on short rest Wednesday night. Saturday, they lost to Los Angeles Lakers 126-101.
What's more, Brooklyn will enter this matchup at Philadelphia without Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, who is recovering from a strained hamstring.
Kevin Durant is expected to play, but likely will continue to be limited on a minutes restriction. Durant struggled against the Lakers with an uncharacteristic eight turnovers.
"That's all on me," Durant said. "I mean, they were trapping me and keeping two on the ball a lot, but all that stuff is still on me. I can't put that on nobody else. I'll be better."
Durant put up 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting against the Timberwolves.
Kyrie Irving isn't likely to play for personal reasons, so the Nets' lineup will look different than the one expected in the postseason.
With their team short-handed, the Nets have appeared to play with less intensity at times. In order to change the outcome that occurred against the Lakers, the Nets will need to alter their play when they visit Philadelphia.
"I don't think we have to be more physical than teams," Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. "We just have to match the effort and intensity. I don't think we necessarily tried to match it (against the Lakers). I felt like we started the game like we'll get into this at some point and win it instead of we've got to hit first and try to take this thing. That was a mindset."
--Field Level Media
FROM THE ARCHIVES