Saturday, June 22, 2024

Nets’ Ben Simmons on returning from back injury vs. Celtics: ‘I gotta get on the floor and help this team win’

NEW YORK — Ben Simmons said Friday that he is “very hopeful” to make his Brooklyn Nets debut during their first-round series against the Boston Celtics. Asked how difficult it will be to play in an NBA game under playoff pressure when he hasn’t suited up since last June, he said, “We’ll find out.” 

Simmons intends to play in Game 4 at Barclays Center on Monday, as long as he doesn’t have a setback in his return from a back injury, ESPN reported on Friday. The Athletic reported the same thing on Thursday. During his first interview with Brooklyn media since his introductory press conference in February, Simmons said that “it’s literally day-to-day.” Coming back in this series is “a good challenge,” he said, and Simmons repeatedly said he’s looking forward to it. 

 “Especially playing with these guys,” he said. “I think with me, my IQ’s so high, to play with guys like [Kyrie Irving] and Seth [Curry] and [Kevin Durant] — just watching them, I know how they play, I know how they want to play. And for me, to just get them in their spots and be a floor general, it’s exciting.”

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This week, as part of his return-to-play program, Simmons has played in 4-on-4 scrimmages. He said that he has another one scheduled for Saturday, after which he will “see how I feel.” The plan, he said, is to build toward “being ready to play at that full speed and high intensity.”

The Nets lost the first two games in Boston, and Game 3 is Saturday. Asked if Simmons could be available then, Brooklyn coach Steve Nash laughed and said, “Ben tomorrow? I don’t think so. No.” Simmons said, “Probably not. No.”

When reporters were allowed to enter the practice court at the Nets’ training facility, Simmons was doing some light shooting and one-on-one work with an assistant coach. He said he “felt good” after getting some shots up and working out. 

“I feel close,” Simmons said. “It’s not an easy injury to get back and move the same way straight away. But it’s a work in progress and I’m working every day to get back on the floor as soon as possible.”

In March, ESPN reported that Simmons was dealing with an irritation of the L-4 disc of the lower spine.

“You have an injury like this, your whole leg is affected,” Simmons said. “So it’s going to take time to loosen these muscles and get back on the floor. But it’s day-to-day, so it’s treatment every day.” 

Simmons said that he has “fallen in love with doing Pilates.” Asked if surgery is a possibility down the road, he said, “No, I think we’re in a good place right now where we’re not even thinking about that.”

Nash said that the Nets are “not in here counting down the minutes till Ben’s back.” Just like he has in previous interviews, Nash emphasized that he does not want to put any pressure on Simmons. 

“It would be amazing to have him back and to incorporate him into our group on the floor,” Nash said. “And obviously we know he gives us size and speed and playmaking and rebounding, all those things that are helpful. But we’ll just have to see how he progresses.”

Nash said that the coaching staff has considered how Simmons will be used, but that “you can’t overthink it, you have to experience it as much as anything.” Brooklyn guard Patty Mills said that the team has already “been through some pretty crazy stuff this year” and has fared “pretty well” in terms of handling “weird sort of circumstances.” Asked what role Simmons will play, Mills laughed and said, “We’ll see. I’ll see at the same time that you’ll see is what I’m guessing.”

Mills acknowledged that Simmons will be jumping into a series against a great defensive team, but said the Nets have to make the most of the opportunity to integrate him. In terms of what Simmons brings to the team, Mills sounded as excited as he did right after the trade

“His talent and his physicality, his basketball IQ, being able to handle the ball, being able to whip that thing around and find shooters, his physique on defense and being able to guard 1 through 5, how strong and long he is defensively — you can just imagine getting a stop or getting a defensive rebound and him out on the break,” Mills said. “I think there’s a lot that he can bring to the team that we probably don’t have at the moment. So him just being who he is, I think he has the opportunity to just slide in there.”

Simmons himself said has no concerns about fitting in.

“I think it’ll be fine, personally,” he said. “There’s some things on defense where I look at it and I think I can make a big impact in terms of just being vocal on the floor and helping my teammates and being a leader on that side of the court. And then offensively, obviously I like to get out and push the ball. We have guys who want to run and shoot the ball a lot, so I’m looking forward to that aspect and playing with a team that wants to run.”

Simmons said it is “so frustrating” when the Nets struggle on defense and he is “not out there and able to contribute.” It has been “tough,” he said, to be cautious and patient with his back. 

“When you know you’ve had two good days, you don’t want to push yourself too much and have a setback or whatever it is,” he said. “And I’ve been aware of that. I’ve had this injury before. I’ve been aware of what I need to do and how to stay on top of it.”

There is “nothing easy,” Simmons said, about going straight from injury rehabilitation to competing against the best players in the world in the postseason. “But I feel comfortable stepping back on the floor and doing that.” He said that, “once my body’s ready,” he wants to get back on the floor and help Brooklyn win playoff games.

“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I gotta get on the floor and help this team win. I’ve been traded to the Brooklyn Nets and that’s what they need me to do. So that’s my focus right now.”

Asked if he would still come back if he is physically ready for Game 4 but the Nets are down 3-0, Simmons said, “You’re talking about ifs, you know?”

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