James Johnson and Andre Drummond of the Brooklyn Nets against the Toronto...

James Johnson and Andre Drummond of the Brooklyn Nets against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At this point in the season, the Nets expected to be playing big games and jostling for playoff position. Like, the East’s No. 1 seed or maybe No. 2 if a few things went wrong along the way.

Tuesday night’s game against the Hornets at the Spectrum Center was about playoff positioning. Well, play-in positioning, to be more accurate, as the Nets and Hornets both went into the game with 32-33 records.

The winner of Tuesday’s tilt will take sole possession of eighth place in the conference. Seeds 7-10 will participate in the play-in tournament.

It’s not where the Nets expected to be. But it’s where they are.

"It’s one step at a time, one day at a time," center Andre Drummond said after Tuesday’s morning shootaround. "We’re looking to control what’s in front of us right now and that’s trying to win games right now. Obviously, the future is bright for us. Everybody wants to win at the end of the day. I think as of right now we’re just focusing on game by game."

The Nets went into the night having lost four in a row and 17 of 20. They were without big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who is out with a right hip impingement.

Coach Steve Nash said Aldridge, who had an MRI, will miss Thursday’s game at Philadelphia as well.

"LaMarcus is going to miss this trip," Nash said. "And then we'll see. But that's all I know for sure is that he will not be here. A part of [the injury], they're still assessing, but all I can say is that he won't join us on this trip . . . I thought it overall was pretty positive in the spectrum of diagnosis. So definitely it's a matter of getting to the bottom of what his plan looks like to get back."

Nash said the team discussed calling up Day’Ron Sharpe from Long Island of the G League to add to their big-man stockpile, but decided against it.

Cam Thomas, who suffered a back contusion in Sunday’s game at Boston, is a game-time decision for Tuesday, Nash said.

The Nets did have Kevin Durant for the third game since he returned from a knee injury, and Durant got to play with Kyrie Irving for the second straight game. The unvaccinated Irving will also be allowed to play on Thursday in Philadelphia, but after that he can only appear in three of the Nets’ final 13 (and one of the last eight) unless New York City changes its COVID-19 rules.

"Every game is huge for us right now," guard Goran Dragic said. "Charlotte is, I think, so tight with us, so it's [an] important game. Kyrie and Kevin played together [Sunday], so it’s our second game together. Everybody knows [Irving] and Kevin, they can score the ball. So we just have to be their support, try to make it easy on them and get them at the right spot passing the ball and from there on they're such great players, they're going to draw the defense, kick out and we just have to make plays."

The game in Philadelphia will feature the return of former 76ers guard Ben Simmons, who will join his teammates and watch from the bench. Simmons has yet to play this season.

Nash said Simmons (back) will likely not be ready for a full practice when the Nets next have one on Saturday.

"It’s to be determined," Nash said. "I think he's progressing this week, but I don't know what that means as far as Saturday. I don't think he's ready for a five-on-five basketball practice."

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