Ben Simmons, Yuba Watanabe Return to Brooklyn Nets This Weekend

Point guard Ben Simmons will return to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday after missing the last two weeks with a calf injury. Sharpshooting small forward Yuta Watanabe missed eight games with a hamstring injury, and he’s eyeing a return this weekend when the Nets play back-to-back games against the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers.

Ben Simmons Yuta Watanabe return injury Brooklyn Nets
Ben Simmons Yuta Watanabe return injury Brooklyn Nets
Forward Yuta Watanabe (18) and point guard Ben Simmons (10) are both scheduled to return to the Brooklyn Nets after stints on the injury list. (Image: USA Today Sports)

Simmons missed the last four games with a left calf strain, but a sore knee and back injury kept him out of the lineup earlier in the season.

I’m excited where I’m at right now,” Simmons told reporters after a recent practice. “I’m looking for Friday to get back on the court.”

The Nets went 3-1 without Simmons in the starting lineup, including a loss against the first-place Boston Celtics on Sunday.

The Nets improved to 14-12 after holding off the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. They currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Celtics. After a shaky 2-6 start to the season, the Nets won 12 out of their last 18 games. If the season ended today, the Nets would snag the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Simmons Trying to Find His Groove in Brooklyn

In his first full season with the Nets, a slumping Simmons averages 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. He appeared in 17 games and started in 14, but missed nine games due to multiple injuries.

It’s a lot of load for coming back from a back injury and then also the knee,” Simmons told ESPN. “So, I’m glad I had this time to build some muscle around it and we’ll work on it.”

Simmons tweaked his right calf in the front end of back-to-back games in late November. He played only 11 minutes against the Orlando Magic before he exited with a tight calf. Head coach Jacques Vaughn rested Simmons over the last four games, but Simmons thinks the calf injury is related to his slow recovery from offseason back surgery.

“When you start talking about back injuries, you start using different muscles, you want to load and lean or whatever it is,” said Simmons. “It’s all related in some aspect.”

Simmons is shooting 61.4% from the floor, and a career-low 54.5% from the free-throw line. Simmons missed his lone 3-point attempt against the Memphis Grizzlies early in the season.

The left-handed Simmons has an unorthodox shooting form and janky jump shot. Numerous experts think his poor mechanics are the reason he’s an awful outside shooter and free-throw shooter. Simmons diligently worked on his shooting in the offseason, but he still struggles with his jumper, which is why he attempted only one 3-pointer all season.

Watanabe Led NBA in 3-Point Shooting

A couple of weeks ago, if I asked you who led the NBA in 3-point shooting, you’d probably guess Steph Curry or Klay Thompson from the Golden State warriors. Yuta Watanabe, a backup forward from the Nets, actually led the NBA in 3-point percentage prior to his injury.

In 14 games with the Nets, Watanabe averaged 8.1 points in 18 minutes of action off the bench. However, he averaged 14.5 points per game in his last four games before his hamstring injury. He made the most of his limited court time by knocking down a scorching 57.1% of his 3-point attempts.

You can tell how much my teammates trust me by passing me the ball,” Watanabe said after scoring 16 points off the bench in a victory against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Watanabe emerged as the Nets’ most reliable corner shooter before he missed the last three weeks with a right hamstring injury.

Watanabe played his collegiate ball at George Washington. He became the first Japanese-born basketball player to secure a scholarship to a Division I school. He went undrafted in the NBA, but latched on with the Memphis Grizzlies and their developmental team, the Memphis Hustle, for two seasons. He spent two more seasons as a reserve with the Toronto Raptors  before joining the Nets this season.

The Nets anticipate Watanabe could suit up sometime soon. If he’s not able to play on Friday against the Hawks, then he could return on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.

“My hamstring is feeling good,” said Watanabe. “Hopefully I can play this weekend.”

Nets Long Shot to Win First Division Title in Brooklyn

The Nets are +1200 odds to win the 2022-23 NBA championship as the sixth highest team on the DraftKings’ futures board. In the race for the Eastern Conference crown, the Nets are +600 odds to win their conference and secure a spot in the 2023 NBA Finals. Only the Celtics (+150) and Milwaukee Bucks (+300) have better conference odds.

The Celtics are a massive favorite at -3500 odds to win the Atlantic Division for a second season in a row after building up a seven-game lead. The Only two games separate the other four teams in the Atlantic, and the second-place Nets are +2500 odds to win the division.

Since they relocated to Brooklyn in 2012, the Nets have not won a division crown. They last won the Atlantic Division during in the 2005-06 season as the New Jersey Nets.

The Nets have been winning games recently, but continue to struggle to cover the point spread with an 11-14-1 record against the spread. They’re tied for the ninth-worst ATS record in the NBA.

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