The Nets’ 115-109 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night at the Barclays Center marked the 14th straight game that forward Ben Simmons has been out of the team’s lineup due to knee and back soreness. He hasn’t played since Feb. 15, and the Nets could use him after losing four in a row heading into tonight’s rare second consecutive game at home against the same opponent, the Cavaliers.
While the 26-year-old Simmons has not performed at the level this season that earned him three-All-Star game selections (2019-2021), an All-NBA Third Team honor (2020) and two NBA All-Defensive First Team accolades (2020, 2021), his presence would add depth, ball handling, and defense to a team that has been uneven since trading Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant nearly seven weeks ago. In 42 games, the 6-10 Simmons is averaging 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists in 26.3 minutes.
The Nets are 39-33 with 10 games remaining, with six of them against teams with records under .500 when the NBA schedule began last night (Wednesday). They were sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, one place above a Play-In Tournament spot, which the No.7 through No. 10 seeds will hold at the conclusion of the regular season. Head coach Jacque Vaughn’s group was just one-half game ahead of the No. 7 Miami Heat and two and a half games behind the No. 5 seed Knicks, which faced the Heat in Miami last night.
As far as Simmons’ potential return, Vaughn is confident he’ll return before the Nets’ last regular season game on April 9 against the Philadelphia 76ers in Brooklyn. “There is zero discussion about him not playing,” he emphatically stated last week. “We expect him to be back, we’re waiting for him to be back.”
Until that happens, if at all, they will have to coalesce with the players that are available. They were 20th in the 30-team NBA in scoring at 113.4 points per game prior to yesterday’s slate of games and 12th in defense, with opponents’ averages of 112.8 ppg on 46.2% shooting overall, and 37.1% on 3-point attempts, the latter slightly above the league average of 36.1%.
The Nets had no effective solutions to stopping the Cavaliers explosive guard Donovan Mitchell on Tuesday. The league’s eighth leading scorer (27.4) torched them for 31 points and the Cavaliers were plus-20 when he was on the court. His performance was highlighted by a poster-worthy dunk over Nets forward Yuta Watanabe. “I don’t know if it’s my best one, but it’s definitely up there,” Mitchell said when asked about it after the game.
Forward Day’Ron Sharpe led the Nets with 20 points off of the bench, and starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie had 19. The Nets will travel to Florida to play the Heat on Saturday and the Orlando Magic on Sunday, then will return to Barclays to face the Houston Rockets next Wednesday.