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Nets Notebook: Ben Simmons remains on track to return Monday against Utah

Help has almost arrived, Nets fans.

Ben Simmons, who missed his 38th straight game on Saturday because of a pinched nerve in his lower back, practiced at the G League level on Saturday and completed the entire session. As long as there are no unforeseen setbacks in the next 48 hours, head coach Jacque Vaughn said there is a “high likelihood” that the 6-10 guard will return to the court on Monday when Brooklyn faces the Utah Jazz at Barclays Center.

“It was great. I feel great,” Simmons said. “It was good to just be on the floor and get up and down and play and get some live situational things going for me. So, I’m excited to be back and looking forward to it.”

Simmons has not appeared in a game for the Nets since Nov. 6. He averaged 6.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists in his first six appearances this season while shooting 52.8% from the field. Brooklyn went 3-3 in those games. The Nets have gone 14-24 since entering Saturday.

The 27-year-old believes his versatile skill set can help the struggling Nets in every facet of the game.

“I just want to have an impact,” Simmons said. “I want them to win games. We haven’t been winning lately. So it’s one of those things where we have to get back on track. I’m looking forward to playing my role and helping this team win.”

WHITEHEAD’S SEASON CUT SHORT

Vaughn announced on Saturday that rookie guard Dariq Whitehead will undergo season-ending surgery to address a stress reaction in his left shin.

Whitehead, selected by the Nets with 22nd overall pick last June, appeared in just two NBA games this season. He averaged 1.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while shooting 20.0% from the field. The Duke product averaged 8.3 points, 3.3 rebound, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals across four regular-season games with Long Island.

“According to all signs, diagnoses and consultations, he’ll miss the rest of this season and then gear toward finishing and being able to complete his career,” Vaughn said. “He’s going to get through these months of rehab and we look forward to him being back on the floor, but season-ender for him to address that stress reaction.”

Vaughn said it is too early to determine whether Whitehead’s procedure will keep him out of summer league action. He underwent surgery on his right foot in June before he was drafted by Brooklyn.

CAM FOR CAM

Cam Thomas received his first start since Dec. 27 on Saturday in place of Cam Johnson, who was ruled out earlier in the afternoon because of personal reasons. It was Thomas’ 21st start of the season overall. Vaughn did not share the reason behind Johnson’s absence when speaking to reporters before the game.

“That’s the thing about life is it’s beyond basketball, and so nothing that is going to be a detriment to him returning or anything of that nature,” Vaughn. “But he’ll miss today, hopefully only for personal reasons.”

Thomas entered the night averaging 22 points in 20 appearances as a starter versus 18.5 points in 15 games as a reserve. The Nets were 10-10 when Thomas started this season.

It was Johnson’s ninth absence of the season and first since Dec. 27.