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When there’s hope (if not optimism,) things can get interesting

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Portland Trail Blazers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets are in one tough spot as the season winds down. They’re currently in eighth place and hold a spot in the dreaded play-in tournament, but there is some hope — if not optimism — that they could make to the sixth seed. But as Kristian Winfield points out, it will not be easy and the Nets will need to win while the Cavaliers, currently the sixth seed (and out of the play-in) and Raptors (in seventh) lose.

As Winfield wrote Sunday...

As of Sunday morning, the Nets (37-34) were four games behind the sixth-place Cavaliers (41-30) and 2.5 games behind the seventh-seeded Raptors (39-31). That means the Nets would need to win four more games than the Cavaliers to tie them for sixth in the standings at the end of the season and three more games than the Raptors to leapfrog them for seventh.

And here’s how the play-in tournament works if they can’t get into sixth, per ESPN...

Game 1: The No. 7 team in the standings by winning percentage will host the No. 8 team, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The losing team gets another chance in Game 3.

Game 2: The No. 9 team will host the No. 10 team, with the winner moving on to Game 3. The loser is eliminated and enters the NBA draft lottery.

Game 3: The loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup will host the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 matchup, with the victor grabbing the No. 8 seed in the postseason. The loser of Game 3 also enters the lottery.

So while the goal may be getting into sixth, the Nets want to avoid falling into ninth and right now, they are one game out of ninth. The games start April 12, two days after the Nets end their season with a home game (sans Kyrie Irving) in Brooklyn.

As Winfield points out, while Irving will only be eligible for three games of the Nets final 11, two of those three are this week against tough opponents, the Grizzlies on Wednesday and the Heat on Saturday.

The presence of Irving will be a big advantage, of course. But with or without in recent days, the Nets are on a bit of a roll. They’ve five of their last six and as our Alec Sturm points out in a tweet thread, since Kevin Durant’s return to the lineup on March 3, the Nets rank first in offense (125.7) and sixth in point differential (+9.4)., Moreover, they are also first in half court offense (108.5), per Cleaning The Glass.

Are the players watching the standings? Depends on who you’re talking to. Nic Claxton said Sunday that he is indeed.

“I think it’s kind of natural,” Claxton said. “You can get caught up in that a little bit, but at the end of the day, we’ve just gotta control what we can control and try to win as many games as we can.”

Bruce Brown, not so much.

“That’s what the coaches do,” said Brown after the Portland game. “Me? I don’t pay too much attention to it.”

If you want to take hope (again if not optimism) to the extreme, Steve Nash told reporters that he “hopes” Ben Simmons will return before the end of regular season on April 10.

“I’m fully expecting to have him this year. That’s where my head’s at,” Nash said of Simmons after Sunday’s practice.

That, of course, seems a bit pollyannish, Nash also said there’s been no real change in Simmons ramp-up and rehab for a back issue. Per Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne three days ago, the issue is an “irritation” of a disc in his lower back, but Shams Charania on Monday reports it’s a “herniated” disc and suggests that while Simmons wants to return, it’s “uncertain.”

Simmons is dealing with a herniated disc in his back and although his return to action this season is uncertain, he wants to be back on the floor as soon as he can, sources tell The Athletic.

A herniated disc of course is a much worse diagnosis. Although pain can be relieved with therapy and treatment, there’s also the prospect of long-term damage and ultimately deterioration of the disc.

Bottom line, is that he’s still not practicing, still focusing mainly on rehabbing his back. The Nets no a benchmark of three high-intensity workouts before they permit a player on the court. Simmons is nowhere close to that.

He is around. Andre Drummond told reporters that although he wasn’t visible to reporters on Sunday — he was doing physio work — he’s been working out, getting to know his new teammates as best he can.

Drummond said Simmons “is always around the team when he’s not rehabbing ... He’s at all the practices, all the shootarounds.”

There was some good news, Nash told the assembled writers. He expects LaMarcus Aldridge to return this week after a hip issue sidelined him for seven games. No word on what game.

As for the Nets ability to deal with all the changes in the rotation, Drummond said there is a solution. “Treat this sh** like pickup,” he said jokingly (we think.)

On a more serious note, Nash admitted that the Nets are at a disadvantage not knowing from day to day who they’ve got and for how long. Asked about Drummond’s pick-up comment, said there is some truth to the team’s predicament.

“We’re playing against teams that have four, five, six years of corporate knowledge where a lot of that end-of-game execution is rote for them. They’ve been through it before. We don’t have that.”

After practice, most of the team as well as Sean Marks and other staff traveled across the street to party space elsewhere in Industry City for a season ticket holders event. Fans got to mingle with their favorites, posting images on social media.

All the Nets players other than Irving, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin and Day’Ron Sharpe made appearances per fans who were present. Simmons made a brief appearance. Sharpe and David Duke Jr. were with the Long Island Nets in Fort Wayne, Ind.

The Nets play again Monday at home vs. the Jazz. A win against Utah would be a good start on Brooklyn’s quixotic quest for sixth.