Ben Simmons Credit: Bill Moore photo

Last Friday was a feel-good moment for the Brooklyn Nets. Forward TJ Warren, who they signed as a free-agent last July, appeared in his first NBA game since Dec. 29, 2020, after undergoing two surgeries on his left foot to address stress fractures. That’s 703 days to be exact that Warren was out. In 17 minutes of playing time, he had 10 points and four rebounds in the Nets 114-105 win over the Toronto Raptors. 

“It was a lot of emotion before the game. I went through every emotion to get back to this point,” he said afterwards. “The training staff, my teammates, the coaching staff, organization, did a great job getting me back to this point and I’m just forever grateful for this opportunity.”

In the shortened 71-game post-COVID shutdown season of 2019-2020, Warren, now 29, played in 67 games for the Indiana Pacers and averaged 19. 8 points. He only played in four in 2020-21 and missed all of last season. Drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2014 with the 14th pick in the first round out of North Carolina State, Warren has posted an average of at least 18 points in three seasons. He is a career 50.6% career field goal shooter.   

The Nets, who were 13-12, the No. 6 seed in the East before meeting up with the Charlotte Hornets last night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, hope to have point-forward Ben Simmons back in the rotation tomorrow night when they face the Atlanta Hawks at the Barclays Center. He has been out four straight games. He suffered a calf strain in the second quarter against the Orlando Magic on Nov. 28. Before the injury Simmons was resembling the player who was a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA Defensive First Team. 

He was playing with renewed confidence and aggression, pushing the ball off rebounds for kickouts to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets’ other shooters for open perimeter looks, hitting center Nic Claxton on rim runs, and selectively attacking the rim in transition and half court sets. 

The Nets are also getting back forward Yuta Watanabe soon. Perhaps the most surprisingly productive player for head coach Jacque Vaughn this season, Watanabe missed his ninth consecutive game last night with a hamstring injury. Born and raised in Japan, Watanabe was the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year while playing for George Washington University from 2014-2018. 

He was a member of the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors before being signed by Brooklyn late last August. In 14 games played this season, the 28-year-old 6-foot-8 Watanabe is averaging 8.1 points in 18.2 minutes and shooting a scorching 57.1% (24-42) on three-point attempts. Kevin Durant leads the Nets in scoring, posting 29.9 points in 25 games before taking on the Hornets, which was sixth overall in the NBA. 

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