PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons’ back pain threw his postseason status into uncertainty had the NBA season reached its natural conclusion.
Check out Simmons these days on Instagram.
He’s muscular, spry — and throwing down dunks without a wince on his face. The All-Star guard who watched the Philadelphia 76ers from the bench during the final days in March is now healthy, confident and ready to dominate.
“I’m feeling better than I was at the start of the season,” Simmons said Thursday. “I’ve been working since I had the injury, working until now to be prepared for whatever happens and wherever we go. I’m feeling great and been rehabbing this whole time, so I’ve been feeling ready and I’m very comfortable.”
Simmons, the NBA’s leader in steals, had been quiet except for social media posts since the league shut down March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 23-year-old had missed eighth straight games and was receiving daily treatment for nerve issues in his lower back when the season stopped. Simmons said Thursday it was “hard to judge” his readiness for a postseason run in April and beyond. But the extended break gave Simmons — and banged-up All-Star teammate Joel Embiid — enough time to rest, rehab and regroup for when the NBA resumes July 30 at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida.
Simmons’ last game was Feb. 22, when he took such a hard fall in Milwaukee that he was left lying on his back, vomiting from the pain.
He is good to go now and can help the Sixers resume their push to win their first NBA title since 1983.
“I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I put on a lot more muscle. I’m ready to go and get rolling.”
Simmons averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in 54 games. Entering a season with NBA championship expectations, the Sixers (39-26) were a disappointing sixth in the Eastern Conference and coach Brett Brown’s job status was a hot topic in Philadelphia. Brown, whose contract runs through 2021-22, may have gained some more time to fix the Sixers because of the shutdown. The Sixers had a roster of mismatched parts, injuries and abysmal road record (10-24) that pushed them toward the brink of being a bust.
Philly needed the hiatus as much as any team in the league.
“We’ve beaten the best teams in the league,” Simmons said. “We’re a young, healthy team right now. We’re looking forward to get this opportunity and go all the way.”
And if the Sixers win it all, the title will be unlike any other in league history. They’ll spend three months living in a quasi-bubble at the Disney complex after an entire postseason is played without fans, with most if not all of that time away from friends and family.
“I trust in the NBA and those older vets like ’Bron, like CP3, who are ready to go down there,” Simmons said. “This is our job. I don’t have any problems with people who want to sit out. Everybody’s personal stuff is different. I want to get out there and play. I feel like it’s my responsibility to go down there and represent Philadelphia in the highest way possible. I think this is the right way to do it.”