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Ben Simmons may play for Nets against Celtics in NBA playoffs

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Ben Simmons and his bad back are in a race against time, hoping to get on the court before the Nets run out of season.

“If [Simmons plays], we cross that bridge when we get there,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said Wednesday as Boston prepared to host the Nets in the opener of their first-round playoff series on Sunday. “But right now we’re just focusing on the guys that they’ve got at this moment.”

Nets coach Steve Nash would neither affirm nor refute a report by The Athletic that Simmons might make his season debut as early as Game 3 of the first-round series. But Nash did confirm that the injured All-Star, who is suffering from a herniated L-4 disk, has made progress, and that his improvement is accelerating.

“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, who did acknowledge Simmons has improved since getting an epidural injection while the Nets were playing at Orlando on March 15. “Yeah, I would say heavier progress in the last week than the first three weeks or so after that.

Ben Simmons sits on the Nets’ bench during their play-in game against the Cavaliers on Tuesday.
EPA

“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.”

Simmons has been at this stage before. He was in the midst of a ramp-up to play when he suffered a setback at some point between Feb. 26 and March 3.

After orthopedic experts told The Post that Simmons likely would require an epidural, he got just such an injection. And on April 7 a league source said it was paying dividends, albeit admitting time was growing short.

“It looks like he’s doing a little bit better,” the source told The Post. “It’s just a timing thing. The problem is the season is running out. But he’s doing [more]. He’s starting to do a little bit more movement, AlterG, stuff like that. So … we’ve got to be patient with it. I don’t think he’ll need a procedure, but you’ve just got to be patient with it.”

The Nets’ play-in win over Cleveland on Tuesday earned them a postseason berth. Game 3 against the Celtics won’t be until April 23, and if the series goes the distance, Game 7 wouldn’t be until May 1.

“It’ll be hard to emulate [Simmons] being with Brooklyn because we haven’t seen him used with them,” said Boston head coach Ime 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.”




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