BROOKLYN — Brooklyn announced late Saturday afternoon that forward Ben Simmons had received an epidural injection in his back, meaning his absence with a nerve issue in his lower back will stretch to more than a month.
“The epidural happened within the course of this week here,” coach Jacque Vaughn said before the Nets beat the NBA’s hottest team, the Orlando Magic, 129-101 at Barclays Center on Saturday night. “It was just a part of his getting back to playing, and that is a part of his treatment, a part of his strengthening that was just a part of his getting back to a position of joining us. No setbacks.
“Right now he is still doing low-level stuff on the court. So no rebounding drills, no sprinting up the floor. Then, in two weeks, you’ll continue to strengthen it and we’ll have something hopefully for you then.”
Asked for a second time later in his press conference, Vaughn reiterated that Simmons had not had any sort of setback in his recovery, and that the epidural shot was simply part of the recovery process. But it also highlighted how little Simmons is doing on the court.
“It is low-level [on-court work],” Vaughn said. “It hasn’t been incorporated with other players at all.”
Simmons hasn’t played since he initially suffered the injury Nov. 6, during a game at Barclays Center against the Milwaukee Bucks. While Simmons finished that game, he missed the next few with what was initially described as “left hip soreness” by the team. In mid-November, the NBA determined he had a nerve impingement in his lower left side of his back that was causing the problem.
Back issues are nothing new for Simmons. He initially injured it in 2020 while with the Philadelphia 76ers and then proceeded to sit out the entire 2021-22 season, during which he was traded to the Nets — in part because of it — and ultimately had surgery in the summer of 2022.
He returned and eventually played 42 games last season, before being shut down in March due to a different nerve impingement.
In six games this season, Simmons has averaged a career-low 6.5 points, a career-high 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game across just under 32 minutes a night for the Nets, serving as the team’s point guard and primary playmaker when he was on the court.
While his shooting remained a problem — he took a total of four free throws across those six games, and remained a nonfactor as a scorer offensively — his rebounding and playmaking had been a boost to Brooklyn with him on the court. Now, it is uncertain when the Nets will have the three-time All-Star back on the court again.
What was certain, however, is that he wouldn’t be playing Saturday night against the Magic, who fell short of their bid to set a franchise record with 10 straight victories and move to within a half-game of the Boston Celtics for the best record in the entire NBA.