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NBA WEEK: At last - Simmons set to throw himself into playoff fire with Nets to finally end saga

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Expert
21st April, 2022
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Talk about throwing yourself into the fire. Ben Simmons is reportedly planning on making his long-awaited return to an NBA court for Tuesday’s game four of Brooklyn’s first-round playoff series against the Celtics. 

The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported overnight that Simmons will be suiting up “as long as rehab remains on course” after EPSN newsbreaker Adrian Wojnarowski had earlier broken the news that a game-three return hadn’t been ruled out but game four was more realistic.

The Nets are yet to officially confirm his status but coach Steve Nash earlier this week said Simmons had been cleared for contact in training after steadily building up his intensity in practice. 

Brooklyn are already down 2-0 after going down narrowly in the opening matches of the series in Boston and will look to fight back in game three at the Barclays Center on Sunday. But if they lose that one they’ll be staring down the barrel of a sweep and elimination. 

Even if that is the case, Simmons should play if he is fit for the first time since June last year. 

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Even if game four is the only match he plays this year because the Nets lose again, it would be worth it. 

The 25-year-old Australian three-time All-Star has not played since his controversial performance for Philadelphia in last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs in which he passed up an open dunk because he was apparently too worried about being fouled and having to head to the free throw line, prompting criticism from teammate Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers which was pretty mild in the grand scheme of things. 

Everyone thought the February trade with Brooklyn would be the end to the saga of him not being on court for the Sixers as he was “not mentally ready” but an untimely back injury has extended his layoff into the post-season. 

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It will be extraordinary if his first appearance in his new No.10 jersey for Brooklyn is in a playoff, a pressure-charged clash with the Celtics in a series already marred by Kyrie Irving’s clashes with fans on his former home arena in Boston. 

But anything Simmons can do to get back on the court and restore his reputation will be beneficial for him. 

Even if he only plays one game for the Nets in limited minutes it’d be better than nothing at all and another six months of speculation about every aspect of his game heading into next season. 

Even if he doesn’t suddenly unveil a jump shot or show improvement at the free throw line, getting back on the court and getting that obstacle out of the way will be immense for his long-term plan to again being one of the NBA’s elite stars. 

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PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 10: Patty Mills #8 and Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets take the court for warm ups before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on March 10, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose own career has been derailed the past few years by injury, was excited by the prospect of Simmons returning but said expectations shouldn’t be too high. 

“I’m excited 2 see what Ben Simmons brings 2 the Nets. I keep hearing “He’s going to play the Draymond role” like has he ever played that role? Do we know if he’s even good at that role? Let’s not just throw around “Draymond role” like that’s something simple!! If it was simple…”

Simmons, at his best, would be an ideal complementary piece for Brooklyn with his athletic defence and top-shelf playmaking working well alongside Irving, superstar forward Kevin Durant and other shooters like Seth Curry and Patty Mills. 

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Nobody should expect him to be near his best straight away but after so much speculation, sniping and false dawns, let’s hope he finally gets back on court to put an end to this saga once and for all to kick-start what should be the second phase of a lengthy career. 

Injuries won’t automatically mean upsets

A couple of unfortunate injuries have thrown open a couple of first-round playoff series.

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After missing the first two matches of the series against Utah, the Mavericks have announced All-Star guard Luka Doncic will sit out Friday’s third game as he is still not over his calf strain.

With the series locked at 1-1 following the Dallas double header, it’s a wise move to keep him benched if he’s not fully fit but if the Jazz win the next contest on their home floor, Doncic could be pushed out on a wheelchair by Mavs coach Jason Kidd for game four.

Phoenix star Devin Booker has already been ruled out for the rest of the first-round match-up against the Pelicans after suffering a grade-one hamstring tear in the game-two home loss.

Even though the series is tied up and the next two fixtures are in New Orleans, it’s a fair chance the Suns will still progress to the next round inside six games – their win-loss ratio on the road this season was better than anyone else’s home record.

All-Star forward Khris Middleton is out for two weeks with an MCL sprain, which opens the door ever so slightly for Chicago after Milwaukee dropped game two at home to give the Bulls a split in the first two matches.

But the Bucks are still likely to wrap things up without even having to worry about a game seven as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the floor.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Must-watch matches

Friday: Grizzlies at Timberwolves, 9.30am

Minnesota fans have been starved for playoff action and after snaring the series opener, the Wolves are an outside chance of upsetting the second-seeded Memphis.

Saturday: Suns at Pelicans, 11.30am

For a 1 v 8 match-up both the first two games have been much closer than usual. Brandon Ingram is starring for New Orleans and Zion Williamson is apparently keen to play but the franchise wants to keep him in cotton wool. With Devin Booker out, Chris Paul’s fourth-quarter mastery will be even more important for Phoenix.

Sunday: Celtics at Nets, 9.30am

Jayson Tatum v Kevin Durant is enough of a drawcard on its own and with Brooklyn facing a 3-0 deficit and questions over his output thus far, KD is likely to unleash his full bag of tricks to keep his team alive.

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