Next update on Nets’ Ben Simmons (back) expected Saturday,

Next update on Nets’ Ben Simmons (back) expected Saturday,

The Nets welcomed Cam Thomas back into the lineup on Thursday and Dennis Smith Jr.’s return appears imminent. Could a healthy Ben Simmons soon follow?

Simmons, 27, has been battling a left lower back nerve impingement. When Brooklyn shared its last update on Simmons nine days ago, it said the forward’s condition was gradually improving and that he had been cleared to begin light individual court work. He was expected to be re-evaluated 7-10 days from Nov. 22.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Thursday’s game, head coach Jacque Vaughn said the next update regarding Simmons’ injury will come on Saturday. He missed his 11th straight game on Thursday.

“I’ll give you something on Saturday, probably overall where Ben is at,” Vaughn said. “He has been included in all of our meetings and film and all that stuff, and we’ll give you something on Saturday about what he’s been doing on the court.”

Simmons, a three-time All-Star during his early career with the Philadelphia 76ers, has averaged 6.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists across six starts this season. Despite missing so much time he still ranks fourth on the team in total assists (40) behind Royce O’Neale, Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie. The Nets have an offensive rating of 111.5 with Simmons on the court.

Vaughn said that Smith has ramped up his activity in recent days and is close to returning to the court. The guard missed his sixth straight game on Thursday with a lower back injury of his own.

“I want the athlete to be mentally and physically ready to play when he gets back on the court,” Vaughn said. “Dennis is definitely still trending toward that direction and hopefully we’ll see him soon.”

O’NEALE LATE SCRATCH

After becoming a surprising addition to the injury report on Thursday because of a left hip contusion, Royce O’Neale was officially ruled out about an hour before tipoff.

It was the first game O’Neale had missed all season, which put a pause to the heater he had been on in recent games. The forward shot 12-of-22 from 3-point range in his last two appearances, including a 4-of-6 effort from deep in the fourth quarter of Brooklyn’s 115-103 defeat of Toronto on Tuesday.

The Nets also recalled rookie wing Dariq Whitehead from their NBA G League affiliate in Long Island on Thursday. The 19-year-old became the second-youngest player to appear in a game for Brooklyn last Saturday.

THOMAS’ RETURN

While Thomas did not expect to miss a beat in his return to action on Thursday, does not mean his teammates will not have to re-adjust themselves to his ball-dominant presence. While the 22-year-old came off the bench and was on a minutes restriction in his first appearance following a nine-game absence, his return will obviously impact the rotation going forward and some guys will play less as a result.

“I think those adjustments just get made throughout the course of the season, just because you have injuries and setbacks along the way,” Vaughn said. “I’ll always continue to have conversations with guys to reinforce where they are, what their minutes look like. (Cam’s return) will affect dudes who have been playing. That’s just the way it is. That’s what we signed up for in team basketball.”

However, as Vaughn explained, less minutes for players such as Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie would do the Nets a service going forward. Bridges and Dinwiddie have averaged 34.3 and 33.7 minutes a night, respectively, in the nine games Thomas missed.

“I think you saw the other night, we’ve been running Mikal and Spencer pretty high,” Vaughn said. “I think the played 38 minutes [on Tuesday]… So [Cam] gives us a healthy body to relieve both of those two at both positions and just gives us some depth that we need right now this time of year.’

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