By Tommy Matthews
The Sixers host the Nets Thursday night at the Wells in what could have been Ben Simmons first showing of his face to Sixers fans since he face-planted last June 20 in game 7 against the Hawks.
But Simmons back is hurting, and after all, he isn’t in mental shape to play, you know, basketball just yet.
Even though it will be exactly a month since the Sixers dumped Simmons for James Harden.
Simmons won’t be playing, but Nets coach Steve Nash said Simmons will sit on the bench with the team Thursday.
“It’s great,” Nash said. “He’s on our team, he needs to be with his teammates and get the whole Philly thing out of the way a little bit. Maybe it never goes away, but the first time it’s always nice to kind of deal with it and move on.”
Nash said he would be “happy to talk” to Simmons about the reception he’s expected to get, but he said he is confident the 25-year-old former All-Star knows what’s coming.
“I don’t think he’s naive [enough] to think he’s not going to get some boos,” Nash said. “I hope he enjoys it. It’s a part of the game I miss.”
As far as when Simmons might be able to play again, that is a question that still does not have a clear-cut answer. Simmons was optimistic about playing in Philadelphia during his introductory news conference, but he has been dealing with back soreness over the last 1½ weeks as he tries to get closer to playing again for the first time in over nine months. Simmons still hasn’t been cleared to practice and it is unclear when he will be able to do so.
The Nets’ next formal practice is scheduled for Saturday in Brooklyn.
“It’s to be determined,” Nash said. “I think he’s progressing this week, but I don’t know what that means as far as Saturday. So he’ll see us [Wednesday] in Philly. I don’t think he’s ready for 5-on-5 basketball but he’s improving, working out, and he’ll join us in Philly, and a few good days of rehab.”
Veteran Nets guard Goran Dragic knows the atmosphere in Philadelphia will likely be intense, but he said he doesn’t think Simmons will have an issue with it.
“It’s probably not going to be pleasant,” Dragic said. “The same as in Toronto [for me], but it is what it is. We’re all professional athletes. At the end of the day it’s only boos, so you just go out there and perform and try to do your best. But as long as it’s nothing serious, no throwing things and just be verbal, I don’t care.”
Drummond echoed a similar sentiment in regard to being back in Philadelphia.
“It will be a playoff-like atmosphere,” Drummond said. “I think just based off the trade and us playing them again and obviously with the Ben situation it’s just two teams that have a good chance of seeing each other in the Eastern Conference finals. So it’s going to be a good game.”
Drummond figures to play a little more than usual over the next few games given that Nash said center LaMarcus Aldridge will be out for at least the next two games after having an MRI on his right hip. The Nets come into Tuesday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets with a 32-33 record, tied with the Hornets for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They have lost 17 of their last 20 games.
Despite what’s going on in the standings, Nash knows much of the focus Thursday will be on Simmons’ return to Philadelphia.
“Your first time back in any city after a trade is always a little different and awkward,” Nash said. “And obviously there’s a history there so it is what it is, he’ll be fine. He’s a big boy and he’s excited to join our team and all that stuff. He wants to be there on the bench with his teammates.”