Nash hopeful Simmons plays in regular season

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The Brooklyn Nets still have no idea exactly when Ben Simmons will be able to make his season debut as he continues to deal with a back injury, but coach Steve Nash said after the shootaround Tuesday that he has “extremely high hopes that we’ll see him in the regular season.”

“He’s just doing his rehab, strengthening,” Nash said. “We’re still doing that side of things rather than court work right now.”

The uncertainty surrounding Simmons’ status is drawing even more attention given that the Nets have just 14 regular season games left and Simmons, who was acquired at the trade deadline last month from the Philadelphia 76ers, still hasn’t been cleared to practice. When the back issue popped up in the last week of February, Nash thought it was just some soreness related to the fact that Simmons hadn’t played all season as he waited on a trade out of Philadelphia, but the issue has become more serious in recent weeks as Simmons hasn’t been able to do anything outside of some individual work. Simmons did not accompany the Nets to Orlando.

“The biggest thing we’ve tried to do is to have him be involved in everything,” Nash said. “The traveling is the one caveat where sometimes you’re weighing the cost-benefit of him on airplanes and buses and different beds. When he’s with us we want him in every meeting, in every walkthrough, in every film session, whatever it may be so he’s around the group. We’d love for him to travel, be with the team all the time, but we have to weigh that scenario as well.”

Nash said that Simmons, who joined the Nets last week in Philadelphia, has been in the meetings with the team when he’s with the group — but he did acknowledge it’s going to take even more time to find a rhythm once Simmons starts actually practicing again.

“I think he has a pretty good understanding,” Nash said. “Now, has his focus been on learning what we’re doing? No, it’s been on getting better. We’ve had him around, we want him to learn, but there’s a lot going on when you’re desperately trying to fight to get on the court.

“I don’t expect him to be totally dialed in on what we’re doing because part of that is also feel; getting out there with your teammates, seeing how it fits. I think he’ll be a perfect fit for our guys. But some of that stuff is also getting out there and doing it, learning on the fly, rather than reading it off the notes.”

Veteran guard Goran Dragic acknowledged that the situation surrounding Simmons’ return is difficult, but he’s trying to focus on the fact that once Simmons is healthy and ready to play he should be able to provide another boost for a team that comes into its Tuesday game having won three straight and is sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s tough,” Dragic said. “But at the same time, we’re all professionals here. We all know how to play basketball. Of course, you need some time to get on the floor and figure out those things but I always look at it this way: Now, he’s not playing and when we finally find a rhythm, [we] can’t wait ’til we got him back.

“Because then you get another weapon, another defender, another rebounder, so it’s going to be even better. Of course we wish him all the best and he can come back quick and help us.”

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