Could the mystery of Ben Simmons’ return give the Nets a competitive advantage?

Does he play? Well, how about we practice? 1 against 0? 1 on 1? 3 against 3? 5 against 5? Did he do intensive training? How much?

These are all the questions Nets fans ask about Ben Simmons every day. There are reports, hints of his return to the field in the playoffs but no timeline. Simmons himself seemed to hint that he was getting closer in an Instagram post on Wednesday…

The most definitive rumor came two days ago when Shams Charania, who has a series of Simmons scoops, told Pat McAfee he thought Game 3 of the first round – it would be April 23, a week to starting Saturday – could be a good day for the 6’11” All-Star to play… in Brooklyn.

“I think Games 1 and 2 are too quick, but after that I would be looking for Ben Simmons to come back,” Shams said.

So imagine how it must be for Celtics head coach Ime Udoka in planning things out. He admits that could be a problem.

“It will be difficult to imitate [Simmons] being with Brooklyn because we haven’t seen him used with them,” said Udoka, who was an assistant for the 76ers 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 out for a year there will be rust and some unpredictability as to how they will implement it with their team.

“But we know his game, we know what he’s doing, and unless something happened last year, we know how to attack him and manipulate certain things until then. But it’s tough because that he didn’t play with this team, so who knows how [he’ll] be used with it.

On Tuesday night, Steve Nash said – again – that there was no schedule for Simmons’ first game since last June, but he too hinted that things were changing.

“I have no idea [about Game 3]. I don’t know where these reports come from. We don’t have an update on the schedule, so I don’t think it’s coming from us,” Nash said. “Yeah, I would say bigger progress in the last week than the first three weeks or so after that.

“He’s moving more, he’s shooting, he’s starting to move a bit on the pitch 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 didn’t run at full speed or play against anyone, so there are still plenty of scorers to meet.

Markers, markers, markers. But there’s a feeling that Simmons wants to get out on the court … but the Nets being the Nets will be conservative.

Of course, the Celtics have their own injury issues. Boston shot-blocking center Robert Williams underwent meniscus surgery on March 30 with a recovery and rehabilitation of 4 to 6 weeks. He was evasive about Williams while Nash was about Simmons.

“He is fine and has been since the surgery,” Udoka said. “I mentioned that he was immediately in a good mood. I think he might have been more scared of it than anything and realized what it was like afterwards, being his first operation. But It went as well as it could. It’s two days a day in Boston and everyone reacts differently so can’t anticipate a date. But unless there’s a setback or a bloat or whatever either like, we hope to get him back as soon as possible.

The first round is indeed extended. There are three days between Game 1 and Game 2, and then two days each between Games 3-7. Game 7 would not take place until May 1. It’s been 17 days from Wednesday. A lot of time.

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