Ben Simmons and his sore back are in a race against time, hoping to get on the court before the Nets run out of season.
“Yes [Simmons plays], we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said Wednesday as Boston prepared to host the Nets in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday. “But right now we’re just focusing on the guys that they have right now.”
Nets coach Steve Nash would neither affirm nor refute a report by The Athletic that Simmons could make his season debut as soon as Game 3 of the first-round series. But Nash did confirm that the injured All-Star, who is suffering from a herniated L-4 disc, has made progress and that his improvement is accelerating.
“I have no idea [about Game 3]. I don’t know where these reports come from. We don’t have an update on the schedule, so I don’t think we’re out of it,” said Nash, who acknowledged that Simmons has improved since he received an epidural while the Nets played in Orlando on March 15. “Yes, I would say more progress in the last week than in the first three weeks after that.
“He’s moving more, he’s shooting, he’s starting to move around the floor a little bit in a one-on-zero environment. Definitely positive signs that he’s getting better and moving forward and all that stuff. But like I said, he hasn’t been running at full speed or playing against anyone, so there are still a lot of markers to hit.”
Simmons has been to this stage before. He was in the midst of a spurt to play when he suffered a setback sometime between February 26 and March 3.
After orthopedic experts told The Post that Simmons would likely need an epidural, he received that injection. And on April 7, a league source said he was paying dividends, though he admitted time was running out.
“She seems to be doing a little better,” the source told The Post. “It’s just a matter of time. The problem is that the season is over. but he is doing [more]. He’s starting to do a little more movement, AlterG, stuff like that. So… we have to be patient with that. I don’t think he needs a procedure, but you just have to be patient with him.”
The Nets’ play-in win over Cleveland on Tuesday earned them a postseason berth. Game 3 against the Celtics won’t be until April 23, and if the series goes all the way, Game 7 won’t be until May 1.
It will be difficult to emulate [Simmons] be with Brooklyn because we haven’t seen it used with them,” said Boston head coach Ime Udoka, who was an assistant with the 76ers in 2019-20 when Simmons was with Philadelphia. “Obviously I coached him two years ago and a lot of guys have played with or against him so we know what he is. Obviously, being out for a year, there’s going to be some rust and some unpredictability as to how they implement it with his team.
“But we know his game, we know what he does, and unless something happened last year, we know how to attack him and manipulate certain things to that point. But it’s difficult because he hasn’t played with that team, so who knows how. [he’ll] be used with him.”