Before the start of Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, Jacque Vaughn provided some injury updates for the Nets going forward. Brace yourselves, folks, we’ve hit that point in the season where the status report becomes a big story.
Ben Simmons made his return against the Hawks after missing four-straight games with a left calf strain. Vaughn was committed to playing Simmons for about 20 minutes against Atlanta and made it known that it was unlikely the point forward would play the second half of Brooklyn’s back-to-back against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
“It’s probably in the 20-ish range. Not a concrete number from performance. But we’ll be smart about his stance for sure,” said Vaughn. “In all honesty, very safe to say that he plays tonight, he won’t play tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, starting center Nic Claxton was a late scratch for the Nets against Atlanta due to right hamstring tightness. Vaughn said the injury was nothing serious and wouldn’t require an MRI.
“I don’t think it’s long-term,” said Vaughn. “Like he’s not scheduled to get an MRI or anything of that nature. So just some awareness that he’s reported, some tightness that he reported when he got here today. So we’re just going to be cautious with it.”
With Claxton out for what could be the next couple of games, Brooklyn’s frontcourt options are fairly limited. Ben Simmons starts at center against Atlanta, and that could be an option going forward if Claxton’s hamstring tightness lingers. The Nets also have Markieff Morris off the bench and can lean into playing Kevin Durant at center, which has been effective this season. If things get really dire, the Nets recalled second-year center, Day’Ron Sharpe, from the Long Island Nets, along with wing, Kessler Edwards.
Yuta Watanabe also missed Friday’s game against Atlanta, his 10th straight, due to a right hamstring injury. Vaughn said, however, that the exciting two-way wing is on track to return in Indiana on Saturday.
Vaughn has been pretty vocal about wanting to reduce Kevin Durant’s minutes load over the past few weeks. Durant leads the league in minutes played with 958.2 in total—considerably more than second-place Royce O’Neale at 934.1 minutes and third-place Jayson Tatum at 915.6 minutes.
When asked about the prospects of resting Durant on the second half of the back-to-back, Vaughn was fairly non-committal. In fact, he brought up Brooklyn’s fairly light schedule coming up, and it isn’t tough to deduce that it’s unlikely that Durant gets a rest day on Saturday just based on his answer.
“I think we want to take this thing game-by-game, but I think we do have to be smart about what it looks like in the future. We don’t have another back-to-back until January 19th, I believe. Our schedule is kinder to us after we get through this next back-to-back. Got Washington, three days in between,” said Vaughn. “So whether we play some guys tomorrow, not tomorrow, acute injuries after the game, none of that you can foresee until we get through today’s game.”
On Atlanta’s side of things, DeAndre’ Hunter was a late scratch with a right hip flexor strain, joining John Collins (left ankle sprain), and Dejounte Murray (left ankle sprain) on the sidelines for a very shorthanded Hawks squad.