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Could mystery of Ben Simmons return give Nets a competitive advantage?

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Is he playing? Okay, how about practicing? 1-on-0? 1-on-1? 3-on-3? 5-on-5? Has he had an intensive workout? How many?

Those are all questions Nets fans ask every day about Ben Simmons. And now, you’d have to think Celtics fans — and the team as well — are doing the same.

There are increasing reports, more obvious hints about his return to the court but no (official) timetable. Simmons himself seemed to hint he was getting close in an Instagram post Wednesday...

Then, in the same vein, he liked a fan’s post...

The most definitive rumors have come in the past several days following weeks of increasingly negative reports about Simmons back injury.

Two days ago when Shams Charania, who has had a series of Simmons scoops, told Pat McAfee that he thought Game 3 of the first round — that would be April 23, a week from Saturday — might be a good day for the 6’11” All-Star to play ... in Brooklyn.

“I think Games 1 and 2 is too quick but after that I’d look for Ben Simmons to be back,” said Shams.

Then Thursday, Brian Windhorst, who only last week completely dismissed the possibility of a Simmons return, changed his tune on ESPN’s Get Up,, based on new information...

Windhorst said he expects that Simmons could be going 5-on-5 by week’s end and play in Game 4 on April 25 at Barclays Center.

“For seven, eight weeks now I’ve heard nothing but pessimism on the Ben Simmons front, and that has switched dramatically in the last few days,” said Windhorst.

So imagine how difficult it must be for Ime Udoka, the Celtics head coach, in planning things. He admits it could be an issue.

“It’ll be hard to emulate [Simmons] being with Brooklyn because we haven’t seen him used with them,” said Udoka, who was a 76ers assistant in 2019-20 when Simmons was with Philadelphia. “Obviously I coached him two years ago and a lot of guys have played with or against him, so we know what he is. Obviously being off for a year there’s going to be some rust, and some unpredictability as far as how they’ll implement him with their team.

“But we know his game, we knows what he does, and unless something’s happened the last year, we know how to attack him and manipulate certain things as far as that. But it’s tough because he hasn’t played with that team, so who knows how [he’ll] be used with him.”

On Tuesday night, Steve Nash said — again — that there was no timetable for Simmons first game since last June but he, too, hinted things are changing.

“I have no idea [about Game 3]. I don’t know where these reports come from. We have no update on the timetable so I don’t think that came from us,” said Nash. “Yeah, I would say heavier progress in the last week than the first three weeks or so after that.

“He’s moving more, he’s shooting, he’s starting to move a little bit on the court in a one-on-zero environment. So definitely positive signs that it’s improving and moving and all those things. But like I said he hasn’t been running full speed or playing against anybody, so still a lot more markers to meet.”

Markers, markers, markers. But there is a sense that Simmons wants to get out on the court ... but the Nets being the Nets will be conservative.

Of course, the Celtics have their own injury issues. Robert Williams, Boston’s shot-blocking center, underwent meniscus surgery on March 30 with a 4-to-6 week recovery and rehab. He was non-committal about Williams as Nash was about Simmons.

“He’s doing well and he has been since the surgery,” Udoka said. “I mentioned that he was in great spirits immediately. Think he might have been more scared about it than anything and realized what it was afterwards, being his first surgery. But it went as well as it could go. He’s doing two-a-days back in Boston and everybody reacts differently so can’t anticipate a date. But barring any setback or swelling or anything like that, we hope to have him back sooner than later.”

Indeed, on ESPN Wednesday night, Adrian Wojnarowski said prospects for a Williams return are “very real,”

Woj pointed out that Game 6 will mark the one-month anniversary of his surgery and Williams has met all the “benchmarks” for his recovery so far.

The first round is indeed stretched out. There are three days between Game 1 and Game 2, then two days each between Games 3 through 7. Game 7 wouldn’t take place till May 1. That’s 17 days from Wednesday. A lot of time for Simmons and Williams.