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Simmons still out for playoff-hungry Nets

Swingman sidelined with back and knee issues since Feb. 15

March 16, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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On the eve of their final drive toward the playoffs, a 13-game run that begins at Downtown’s Barclays Center Thursday night vs. Sacramento, the Brooklyn Nets aren’t sure when, or if, they’ll get Ben Simmons back this season.

Though head coach Jacque Vaughn insisted prior to Tuesday night’s loss in Oklahoma City that the enigmatic swingman was not being shut down for the rest of the year as of yet, he also isn’t counting on Simmons being available anytime soon.

“Yeah, I think first of all I’ll just be pretty simple. He’s still managing his back and knee soreness,” Vaughn said. “He’s back home in Brooklyn. We’ll get a chance to kind of see where he’s at when we get back home after this trip.”

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The Nets (39-30) are back home and ready to continue pursuing one of the six automatic berths to a first-round playoff series.

Last year, even with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the fold, Brooklyn had to settle for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference after beating Cleveland in the NBA’s play-in tournament.

That victory didn’t matter much when they got swept by Boston in the opening round, becoming the only team in a playoff series last season not to win a single game.

Simmons, who sat out all of last year due to mental health concerns and a herniated disk, was averaging 6.9 points, 6.3 boards and 6.1 assists per game for the Nets this season before going down with knee soreness and an ongoing issue with his back on Feb. 15.

He hasn’t played since and Irving and Durant are both chasing championships elsewhere, leaving Brooklyn to ponder how much they’ll get the rest of this playoff chase from the key player they received in last year’s trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia.

The addition of players like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, both of whom have contributed mightily to the Nets’ postseason push, have masked the absence of Simmons, who was once touted as Brooklyn’s potential third superstar alongside its recently departed dynamic duo.

Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn doesn’t seem to be counting the days until Ben Simmons returns to the Nets’ lineup. AP Photo by Darren Abate

Simmons hasn’t said much about his status since late last month, when he was asked following the annual NBA All-Star break if he would be ready to rejoin the Brooklyn rotation.

“It’s frustrating. But it’s something that’s an injury I’ve never dealt with before,” he said of his knee. “So it’s something I’m learning about, that we’re learning about.”

The Nets knew about Simmons’ disgruntlement with his situation in Philadelphia when they acquired him last year.
They also know he’s only played 42 of a possible 69 games for them this season.

With his trade value diminished and his availability in question, the Nets must find a way to make the playoffs without him.

But having him back in the mix isn’t out of the question as Brooklyn welcomes the Kings, Denver and Cleveland here twice for this homestand.

After that, it will be a run of nine games to maintain their position in the playoff race.

Brooklyn is percentage points behind the East River rival Knicks for the No. 5 seed and two games ahead of seventh-place Miami.

Vaughn hasn’t backed off his desire to get Simmons back, but at this point the players available are much more important than one who remains the biggest question mark on the team.

“We want Ben back when he’s capable of being back for us,” Vaughn said earlier this month. “The day-to-day thing, that’s just for me to say some term to you guys. When the back gets better, and when the knee gets better, then he’ll be with us.”

When that will be is anyone’s guess at this point.

There was no news coming out of the team’s HSS Training Center in Sunset Park Wednesday regarding Simmons.

Nor is Vaughn likely interested in discussing the matter any further until the 6-foot-10 four-time All-Star deems himself fit for duty.

The new-look Nets are sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, a position they’d like to enchance or hold on to down the stretch. AP Photo by Jason DeCrow

NOTHING BUT NET: Following their four-game homestand, which concludes with a two-game set against the Cavaliers on March 21 and 23, the Nets will head to Florida where they’ll visit Miami on May 25 and Orlando on May 26. … Only two of the Nets’ previous 11 games have been at Barclays Center. They’ll play 10 of their final 13 contests in Brooklyn.

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