How Ime Udoka, Celtics are handling Ben Simmons' potential Nets return

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Why Ime Udoka, Celtics are well-equipped for a Ben Simmons return originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- Celtics head coach Ime Udoka raised a few eyebrows last Thursday when he admitted his coaching staff hadn't spent any time preparing for the possibility of Ben Simmons playing in their first-round NBA playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets.

But the reality is Udoka and many of his players already have some built-in preparation.

After all, Udoka spent a full season with Simmons on the 2019-20 Philadelphia 76ers as an assistant coach. Celtics big man Al Horford also was on that Sixers team -- which faced Boston in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs.

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While Simmons didn't play in that series due to a knee injury, the All-Star guard faced Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Horford during a 2018 second-round matchup between Boston and Philly, which Boston won in five games.

So, Udoka feels the Celtics should have a pretty good handle on Simmons if he makes his Nets debut during this series.

"We'll start to talk about him if it becomes a possibility," Udoka said Wednesday at TD Garden before Game 2. "But I think myself coaching him in the past and our guys in general -- a lot of guys played against him in a series recently two years ago in the bubble and Al played with him, so we know him well enough.

"When it's time to talk about what he does, if it's a possibility, I don't think it's a problem for our guys. We have a group that's seen him quite a bit."

Simmons' status is still unclear; while ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday's Game 4 is a "realistic" target for Simmons' return, Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash insisted the 6-foot-11 guard has a "long ways to go" before suiting up.

"That's news to me," Nash said Wednesday when told about Wojnarowski's report. "I don't think we're targeting any game. I think we're trying to see how he develops, how he progresses."

Simmons also hasn't played in 10 months, so the Celtics can't watch any recent film on him anyway. And while they'll certainly need to account for Simmons' defensive and playmaking abilities if he returns, Simmons also should have a steep learning curve as he takes the court with his new teammates for the first time in a highly-competitive first-round series.

Boston will look to take a 2-0 series lead Wednesday night before the series shifts back to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4.

Note: Games 2-6 of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series will be aired on NBC Sports Boston and can also be streamed on NBCSportsBoston.com or with the MyTeams App, which you can download below.

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