How long will Ben Simmons be out this time?
That’s what Nets fans had to be asking themselves after it was announced that he would miss at least three games with a left lateral upper calf strain. His condition will be reassessed after that, coach Jacque Vaughn said Wednesday before the Nets played the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center.
Simmons, who had already been sidelined for five games this season with a knee issue, left the court Monday in the second quarter of the Nets’ 109-102 win over Orlando after telling the medical staff he was experiencing soreness in his left knee.
“It’s the knee, but the back of the knee,” Vaughn said. “He was grabbing his knee during the game and said he needed to come out. It ended up being the back of the knee, so it’s the upper part of the calf which ended up being diagnosed after we took some imaging.”
Monday’s game was the second of a back-to-back and the Nets had played five games in seven days. Vaughn said it’s possible that the team could manage Simmons’ minutes when he does return.
“Could it have been an accumulation of games?” Vaughn asked. “We had five in seven. That could have definitely contributed to it. He doesn’t remember a specific event that happened in the game, so I think it’s on us to be smart when he comes back.
“Does that mean a minutes restriction? Maybe so. Does that mean not playing back-to-backs.? Maybe so. Nothing is out of the realm of considering what is best for the team.”
Simmons missed all of last season with mental health and back issues. He was acquired by the Nets on Feb. 10 in the deal that sent James Harden to the 76ers.
Simmons missed four straight games with a sore knee from Oct. 31 through Nov. 5. It also cost him an additional game, a Nov. 13 loss to the Lakers.
Since getting off to a slow start Simmons had been playing well lately. In his last eight games, he averaged 11.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals. He shot 75% while showing some much-needed aggression attacking the basket.
Kevin Durant said after the Nets' win on Monday that the team has to adjust the way it plays when the 6-10 Simmons is not on the floor.
"We've got to play smaller — he's one of our bigs out there," Durant said. "So I thought Coach did a good job of trying to pick out the small lineup on the fly. We got to play a little faster, and I think we all got to do a good job of gang rebounding, doing the little stuff when he's not out there.
“We have some practice in with him not being in the lineup and we were able to figure some stuff out. So something as drastic as this, him leaving in the [second] quarter, we were able to make that adjustment.”
The question is how long the Nets will have to make that adjustment. With the win over Orlando, the Nets were able to get back to .500 for the first time since the second game of the season. A win Wednesday against Washington at Barclays Center would give them their first winning record of the season.
“Health is the number one priority, so we want him to be at his best,” Kyrie Irving said when asked how the team changes without Simmons in the lineup. “I’m glad our medical staff, coaching staff, him himself, we all agreed he’d sit down in the second half to save him for games that matter going into the future . . . games that we’re going to need him most.”