Ben Simmons might have been there when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teamed up to shut up fans in Philadelphia Thursday, but it looks like it’s going to be a good while longer before he can work on silencing detractors himself.
Simmons is "not ready for even one-on-one, let alone three-on-three or five-on-five," Steve Nash said at practice Saturday, adding that Simmons’ back continues to be an issue. Simmons, the key piece in the James Harden trade, hasn’t played since last June, and originally, sat out for reconditioning. In the course of getting ready for his return, he aggravated a lingering back issue.
"I don't want to classify it the wrong way, but he's had back issues at times," Nash said. "I don't want to say he's got a bad back, I don't know if that's fair. I think he's had a flare up of something, but was really healthy for the last six months until the flare up."
Saturday, he was at the team's practice facility to get treatment on his lower back. Nash said Simmons is only able to do "light work," like shooting, ball handling and light cutting. The Nets, though, only have 15 games left in the regular season, and only four outside of New York, where Irving can play. If Simmons isn’t healthy and able to improve to high-intensity workouts in the next two weeks — something that now seems very possible — the Nets will, at best, have only one game with their new Big 3 before the playoffs. That is unless the city’s vaccination mandate is lifted and Irving can play.
The Nets will of course be without Irving in their Sunday matinee against the Knicks, and without LaMarcus Aldridge, too. The big man suffered a hip impingement in last Sunday’s game against the Celtics, and will be out at least a week, Nash said. Day’Ron Sharpe will be called up from the G League for that game but is expected to rejoin the Long Island Nets for their game on Monday.
But even without their full complement, Patty Mills said Saturday that, since Durant’s return from an MCL sprain, it’s felt like a whole new season. Though they’re in eighth place — a precarious position since, as it stands now, a play-in game would be in Toronto, where Irving also can’t play — they’re putting together the tools they need to hopefully win a championship, he said.
"The mindset is that we’re in Game 3 of the season and let’s keep growing from there and get Benny on the floor," Mills said. "We’ve just got to keep building and find ways to have carry-over from what we’ve done so well the past three games. . . . It shouldn’t matter who’s on the floor and who isn’t. I think the principles of what we’ve done really well the last few games is what we’ve got to stick [to] and grind over the course of these last 15 games before the playoffs. So, I guess it’s nothing new. We’ve just got to keep getting better over 15 games. More adversities, but hopefully at some point, we assume that we’ll be able to have all the pieces and be off to the races."
The win against the 76ers was a good barometer, he said — especially considering all the drama. Simmons was booed heartily before Irving and Durant forced the fans at Wells Fargo Center to boo their own team instead, and the Nets were able to hold Harden to just 11 points.
"I think it was a little test of our character," Mills said. "And when I say that out loud, I think we’ve been through a lot of those tests throughout the season to try to find the character of our team and our identity. We’ve hung in this entire time no matter what adversities have been thrown at us."