With Kyrie Irving now eligible for all nine of the Nets final games, and continuing optimism that Ben Simmons may get back on the court before those final games run out, the question on every Nets fan’s mind is, How scary can the Nets be?
James Harden who first coined the term, “Scary Hours,” may be gone, but the Nets have adopted it and if the Nets can get it all together, the hours should indeed be scary. There was good news Friday just as there was Thursday: Ben Simmons is in Miami and is feeling less pain, says Steve Nash.
First things first: As Brian Lewis points out Friday, the Nets will now become a much better team at home with Irving on the court. The Nets have the league’s 24th — or seventh-worst — net rating at home and the third-best on the road. Not to mention that Irving is playing the best basketball of his shortened season, averaging 43.8 points over the last four games he’s played.
Irving himself admitted that having a clean schedule out ahead will help him.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Irving said Wednesday post-game. “This jumping in the lineup, jumping out, looking forward hopefully that can be something we fix and move past.”
Lewis spoke with a former 76ers scout Michael VandeGarde, who now runs his own boutique scouting service,
“Major shift,” VandeGarde said. “They went from being scary but probably not a top three or four favorite … to back in the mix of top three, four, five teams in no particular order.
“I think Nets, Milwaukee, Miami, Philly, Celtics could all win East depending on how they play in playoffs. … Each team could win … each team could get bounced in first round with tough matchup. … Health will probably play a big role for some team as well. … As wide open as ever.”
And what about Simmons who’s yet to make his Nets debut because of a herniated disc? Nick Friedell of ESPN wrote Thursday that there’s little news beyond word that he’s gotten an epidural to ease the pain.
It remains to be seen if Simmons will play this season.
Nets coach Steve Nash remains optimistic, but Simmons hasn’t been able to do anything on the floor in weeks. The Nets have played some of their best basketball of the season recently, winning six of their past seven games behind the power of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Nets players and coaches continue to say that Simmons is in good spirits.
The Nets’ postseason hopes would benefit from Simmons’ perimeter defense and the way he can push the ball offensively, but there is still no time set for his return.
Similarly, Shams Charania told Pat McAfee that the Nets remain optimistic, but ...
“Ben Simmons is exactly what the Nets are missing right now.. There is an expectation that he will play this year,” Shams told McAfee.
“His goal is to play. There’s obviously an uncertainty whether he’ll be able to play. But yes, his goal is to try to figure out a way to get back on the floor. We saw the Nets last night, right? Kyrie Irving had 43 points, Kevin Durant had 35. Those two guys are so lethal offensively. It seems like Ben Simmons is the missing piece on this team, really. The defense he brings, the passing. He can play all five positions.”
Shams also provided a balanced outlook at the Nets prospects of getting the 6’11” 25-year-old back on the court.
“There’s an expectation around the Nets that he’s going to play this year. It’s just going to be about him ramping up and feeling healthy. The problem is that it seems that every time he’s gotten back to the floor, he’s gotten on the floor, he’s had something — a flare-up in his back. So the goal, the hope is that now that he’s gotten the epidural last week, he feels better and hopefully within a week, whatever, he gets back on the floor and tries to ramp up.”
On Friday, there was indeed more positive news on Simmons. For the first time, Simmons flew to a road game and Nash told reporters that indeed Simmons was feeling less pain but added he still hasn’t started working out other than on an individual basis.
Finally, Saturday night, Michael Grady on the YES Network broadcast of the Nets-Heat game provided new details on both the issue and how things are getting better. WIth YES cameras focused on Simmons, Grady stated:
“A positive sign seeing him on this trip. It was shared with us on Ben ... it’s our understanding that he had pain in his lower back going down his legs. and that since has dissipated and the pain is now localized to his lower back, So no pain in his legs anymore. That’s a positive sign highlighted by the fact that he even made this trip. The Nets were keeping him off planes for a while.
“Again, Ben Simmons moving in the right direction. Pain localized in his lower back. Still not doing court work. There’s a progression: 1-on-1 drills, 3-on-3, 5-on-5. Not quite there yet. But the pain going down, a combination of rest, the epidural and physical therapy seems to be working.
Prior to this week, his only flight to a road game had come on February 26 to Milwaukee. Other than that, the only two road games where Simmons traveled with the team were the February 16 game vs. the Knicks in New York and the March 10 games vs. the 76ers in Philadelphia. Those, of course, were drives, not flights.
Steve Nash said Ben Simmons “is feeling a lot less pain.” Still not on the floor. Seth Curry and Goran Dragić are probable for tomorrow.— Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) March 25, 2022
Later Friday, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, speaking on Marc Stein’s podcast, said the Nets are prepared to put Simmon on the court the “moment” that he’s cleared by the medical staff.
“They really want him to play and they are very well aware that defensively, he would provide a piece that they don’t have anything remotely close to. Nic Claxton is probably the best defender on their roster right now. He does pretty well on guards for a big man, but Ben Simmons before this whole fiasco was, pretty much objectively, the best perimeter defender in the league. So that would be a pretty good weapon to add to a team that’s pretty defensively deficient,” Fischer told Stein.
“But because of the timetable — the word I’ve heard all along is they’re really mostly concerned for him coming back for April but April’s around the corner, right? It’s next week, a week from today is April 1. So that clock is definitely ticking. I think Steve Nash said it publicly before their game the other day that he’d be comfortable or fine playing him the playoffs without playing him in the regular season. I think that’s the case because they’re going to take him the second their medical staff [agrees] ... I think the moment that they do, they’ll put him out there.”
In the short term, the Nets will likely get a boost soon. Seth Curry and Goran Dragic are expected back Saturday in Miami. Nash said Friday that the two are now probable.
Curry has been troubled for weeks with a left ankle sprain, while Dragic sat with left knee soreness. Both traveled with the team to Miami.
Of course, every game is crucial at this point. The Nets continue to sit in the eighth spot, three behind the Cavaliers and Raptors who are tied for sixth and seventh. If the Nets can’t close the gap and they have to face the Raps in Toronto, Irving won’t be eligible to play, can’t even travel to Canada because he remains unvaccinated.
Should the Nets get out of the play-in tournament with the seventh seed, at this point, they’d wind up in a first round battle with the 76ers. Scary hours indeed.
- NYC vaccine exemption changes Nets, NBA landscape - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets have potential playoff preview in Saturday showdown against Heat - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets could get Seth Curry, Goran Dragic back in time for Heat - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Analysis: Full-time Irving doesn’t solve all Nets issues - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Kyrie Irving’s ‘jumping in the lineup, jumping out’ status is set to end, and the Nets’ playoff future just got brighter - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Kyrie Irving gave it his best no-shot and won - Barbara Barker - Newsday