Ben Simmons passes eye test in Nets’ preseason opener


LAS VEGAS — Scores don’t mean much in the preseason, but sights do.

And the image of Ben Simmons not just playing but playing well is an auspicious one.

Brooklyn suffered a 129-126 loss to the Lakers at T-Mobile Arena on Monday night.

But more important than the scoreboard watching was whether the oft-injured Simmons passed the eye test in his first live action since February.

He did so with flying colors.

Returning from a nerve impingement that wrecked last season, Simmons had 10 points, three assists and a steal in 14:07 encouraging first-half minutes.

“[It felt] amazing. That’s really it, just amazing. Happy to be out there, and compete, and feel good out there and able to contribute like I know how I can. So I felt great,” Simmons said. “It’s the best in two years for sure. Definitely.”

Simmons — who hadn’t played since Feb. 15 due to back woes — looked active, athletic and aggressive before sitting the second half, along with all the starters other than Cam Thomas.

Ben Simmons dunks the ball during the Nets’ preseason loss to the Lakers on Monday night.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“He attacked the rim, I think he played with pace, looked pretty natural out there getting up and down the floor, communicating with guys into the flow of the game. Really good to see,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “So, some really good minutes.’

Simmons took LeBron James off the dribble for a driving layup on his second touch of the night, got up higher on a dunk than he did at any point since joining the Nets, and was confident enough to try things (even when they didn’t come off, like his behind-the-back pass that sailed out of bounds).

Ben Simmons makes a move to the basket against the Lakers in a reason game on Monday night.
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“Very encouraging,” Vaughn said. “In the past, of some of the things he’s been able to do, and some of that, the behind-the-back, that’s part of his game. I understand that. And the pace that he plays with, unscripted and having a flair in the flow to his game, those things we want him to get back to doing was instinctive basketball. I think you saw some of that, and definitely a positive direction for him.”

If Simmons had been healthy last season, sources told The Post that Kevin Durant likely would’ve stayed on in Brooklyn even without Kyrie Irving.

Now the Nets can only hope to get Simmons back to his old self to form a building block alongside Mikal Bridges, who arrived in the Durant trade.

After missing all of 2021-22 with mental health woes and a bad back, Simmons had a microdiscectomy for a herniated L-4 disk on May 5, 2022.

He rushed back too early and averaged career lows of just 6.9 points, 6.3 boards and 6.1 assists in 42 ineffective appearances before being shut down.

Now back after a strong camp, Simmons has dislodged Spencer Dinwiddie from the point guard spot.

Clearly playing Simmons alongside fellow non-shooter Nic Claxton caused some spacing issues that were exacerbated by Cam Johnson’s bad hamstring. That’s a work in progress.

Thomas had 26 points in a rare start, but Bridges struggled without that spacing.

The slasher mustered just eight points in 15:19, shooting 2-for-7 and finishing a team-worst minus-11.

And the Nets also struggled adjusting to playing drop coverage.

A Bridges turnover led to a Rui Hachimura dunk and a 66-47 deficit with 3:10 left in the second half.

Thomas pulled them even at 88-all, and they took a 126-125 lead on a finger roll by ex-Laker Lonnie Walker IV.

But rookie Jalen Wilson got blocked and it led to Maxwell Lewis go-ahead dunk. After Trendon Watford was whistled for an offensive foul, Colin Castleton iced it on a layup with 49.9 seconds to play.

Still, Simmons’ play was a positive.

Ben Simmons has a chance to show the Nets that he’s completely recovered from his injury.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

“I was excited. So excited. Just blessed to be able to come out here and play at a high level,” Simmons said. “It’s exciting. I get to play in the NBA. It’s a great job.”

“I’ve known how it felt for a while now and I’ve worked really hard to put myself in this position. So I know I’m ready. I know I’m more than ready to be here and able to compete and help this team win.”


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