NEW YORK — (AP) — Ben Simmons ran behind the defender and caught a pass in transition, and he dunked. About a minute later, he threw a 3-pointer to his Brooklyn Nets teammate.
These are the types of games the Philadelphia 76ers have seen many times before.
On Monday, Simmons finally got them to play for another team.
Simmons plays his old club in his first NBA game since June 2021, making him one of many big names returning to basketball.
“I’m grateful to be on that floor and on the NBA floor again,” Simmons said. “So I had a good time there.”
Kawhi Leonard is also back with the Los Angeles Clippers and Jamal Murray is back with the Denver Nuggets, both of whom were sidelined last season with torn ACL surgery.
“539 days later…about that time!!” Murray tweeted.
After the Clippers’ 102-97 win over Portland, Leonard said, “Being able to put all the hard work I’ve put in these 14, 16 months into playing against the NBA’s talent, it’s amazing. It was good.” . “Just being with those guys, talking, I miss it. It was a great experience for me.”
There’s no doubting how their team felt after expecting to be title contenders last season, but injuries dashed those hopes. Paul George also missed big time with the Clippers and Michael Porter Jr. Missed all but nine games for the Nuggets.
They both played Monday, along with Damian Lillard returning to Portland after missing the final 47 games of last season when the Clippers and Trail Blazers met in the preseason .
“As a fan of the game, Kawhi’s return is great for basketball, Jamal Murray’s return is great for basketball,” the Nets’ Kevin Durant said. “All the injured and able to play again. Players, it’s great to see them on the field.”
Simmons wants him close to playing after being traded to the Nets last February in a trade featuring James Harden. Simmons cited mental health reasons as he sought a trade with the Sixers after a disappointing postseason when his No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference was eliminated by Atlanta in the second round.
But a herniated disc prevented him from making his season-ending debut and forced him to undergo offseason surgery.
Now completely cleared, Simmons had six points, five assists and four rebounds in 19 minutes in the starting lineup. He left Philly weakly with the last memory of the 2016 No. 1 finish. The No. 1 pick made a layup in a Game 7 loss to the Hawks. But he looked confident putting the ball in transition or playmaking from the low post — though he did miss his only two free throws.
Simmons said he thought he would be nervous, but didn’t. Durant recalls feeling anxious after missing the 2019-20 season after Achilles surgery.
“You want to know how your lungs are going to feel in an organized game, because it’s different from a pickup, a workout, and a game,” Durant said. “So you just want to see where your legs are on the jumper. So go away for a year and you come back with a lot of anxiety. I know I did.”
In Seattle, a group of big-name players made their preseason debut in front of a sold-out crowd in the Emerald City’s second preseason game between NBA teams since the Sonics left Oklahoma City.
While there are Clippers and Trail Blazers fans, the standout colors are overwhelming green and gold, and there has been hope that the Sonics will one day return.
Just days before Simmons, after suffering a knee injury in the 2021 Western Conference semifinals, fans in attendance saw Leonard’s first move.
Leonard looked fine, knocking down his first shot 15 seconds into the game and scoring 11 points in 16 minutes in the first half. John Wall also made his Clippers debut after the five-time All-Star did not play last season. Wall had five points in 11 minutes and George had 12 in 16 minutes. The three played only the first half.
Lillard hit the second half and scored 16 points in 23 minutes.
Seattle basketball royalty made an appearance, including Lenny Wilkens, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Jamal Crawford, George Karl, Detlef Schrempf, Sam Perkins and many others associated with the city’s basketball history. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer grabbed the microphone before kickoff and thanked his hometown for showing up.
“I watched thousands of basketball games in Seattle — CYO, kids, AAU, pros, college, everything. So if it’s a basketball city, damn it, let’s hear it,” Ballmer opened Screaming in front of the ball, causing a huge cheer from the crowd.
Murray’s longer absence in Denver, where he tore his ACL in April 2021, left him unable to attempt to replicate the stellar season he endured at Walt Disney World when he led the Nuggets to the 2020 Western Conference Finals playoffs.
Murray scored 10 points in 15 minutes for the Nuggets in their loss to Oklahoma City.
“Those long-term injuries are tough, dark,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Dagno said. “These guys don’t have a long window to play basketball, they don’t play until they’re 50. It’s tough, it takes a lot of commitment and work. Progress, especially early on, is almost invisible. You’re not weight bearing” in these genres spent a lot of time in injury. Happy for him of course and wish him all the best and stay healthy. He is a very good player and their team will benefit from his return. “
AP sports writers Pat Graham in Denver and Tim Boots in Seattle contributed to this report.
Copyright 2022 Associated Press. all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.