Many assumed that Ben Simmons would be on some sort of minutes restriction in his initial games back from injury. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn confirmed that would be the case ahead of Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz at Barclays Center, where Simmons appeared in his first NBA game since Nov. 6.
Vaughn did not disclose how long Simmons will remain on a minutes restriction or how many minutes he will be limited to over the next handful of nights. Those parameters will be determined by Brooklyn’s performance team. The 27-year-old had missed 38 straight games because of a pinched nerve in his lower back. Vaughn simply wanted him to get through Monday night without any issues.
“He’ll have short stints out there,” Vaughn said. “So that’ll be hopefully smart for us, just to see how he’s feeling. I mean literally he hasn’t practiced with the dudes he’s going to play with tonight. It will literally be a day-by-day we’ll get feedback from him, see how he feels after the game. He has historically been a guy that’s able to have time off, get back on the floor and be extremely productive with speed and quickness. And hopefully that’s the outcome after tonight.”
Simmons did not start against Utah. The three-time All-Star averaged 6.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists in his first six appearances this season while shooting 52.8% from the field.
It will take time for Simmons to get back up to speed. In the meantime, Vaughn and the Nets will be adjusting to him. The team has established rotations and built chemistry without Simmons in the fold for the past two months. His return has obviously shaken things up again.
“It’s been a few months since we’ve seen him on the floor and there will be some lineups out here that we literally haven’t played together tonight. And so that challenge of continuing to learn about your teammates while you’re trying to win a game.”
Staying on the topic of minutes restrictions, Vaughn said that also remains the case for Lonnie Walker IV, although his limit has been bumped up since his initial return on Dec. 5 from a 17-game absence. The 6-foot-4 guard has played 13, 10, 12, 14 & 13 minutes over his last five games entering Monday, respectively.
WOUNDED UP FRONT
While Simmons’ return gave the Nets a boost, the team is still without two key frontcourt contributors.
Dorian Finney-Smith missed his first game since Dec. 29 after suffering a left ankle sprain late in the third quarter of Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets. He had one of his best overall games of the season in the team’s 106-104 win, finishing with 19 points (4-of-8 from 3-point range), seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in just over 30 minutes.
Vaughn said that Finney-Smith will not play in Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, either. His status for Saturday’s road matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers is unclear. “We’ll see how it responds after Wednesday,” Vaughn said.
Day’Ron Sharpe, who has not appeared in a game since suffering a hyperextended left knee on Jan. 7, is still in the non-contact stage of his recovery. The 22-year-old was averaging 10 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 blocks over his last 10 appearances off the bench while shooting 67.2% from the field before suffering his injury.
“Really not a lot to give you on Day Day,” Vaughn said. “He still had a workout today. It was individual-based with a coach. So no participation with any bodies around him yet.”
A SUCCESSFUL PROCEDURE
Nets rookie guard Dariq Whitehead, the second-youngest player in the NBA at 19 years and 181 days old, underwent a successful procedure on Monday to address a stress reaction in his left shin. His expected recovery period is approximately three months, meaning he will miss the rest of the season. The team said he is expected to make a full recovery.
“I talked to him today, he was in good spirits,” Vaughn said. “He’ll stay at home today, stay home tomorrow. The hope is that he is a full participant in our offseason development. So I’m looking forward to that for him and his career going forward.”
Whitehead, selected No. 22 overall last June, appeared in just two NBA games as a rookie. He averaged 8.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists across four regular-season G League games.
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