Neither Luka Doncic nor Ben Simmons has been available to start the NBA playoffs. That could change soon with both players aiming to return in the middle of their respective first-round series.

Doncic told reporters that he was “feeling good” but uncertain about his status for Game 3 between the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz on Thursday night. Doncic said he would play if there is no risk of exacerbating the injury. The Athletic’s Shams Charania had previously reported that there was optimism regarding Doncic’s return in either Game 3 or Game 4.

Game 4 between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics is a realistic target for Ben Simmons to return, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. It’s possible, but seemingly unlikely, for Simmons to play in Game 3 on Saturday.

The Nets will attempt to even up their series with the Celtics in Game 2 on Wednesday night. The Mavericks and Jazz split the first two games of their first-round series in Dallas.

The impact of Doncic’s return for Dallas isn’t exactly comparable to what Simmons might be able to do for Brooklyn. Doncic’s injury status might ultimately be what determines the Mavericks’ fate in the first round. It’s unknown what kind of production Simmons could give the Nets, considering he’s never suited up for Brooklyn and last played in an NBA game 10 months ago.

Doncic is clearly Dallas’ most important player and one of the best scorers in the league. The Mavericks likely would’ve been favored to defeat the Jazz had Doncic not strained his calf in the final game of the regular season. Utah is favored to beat Dallas because of Doncic’s injury.

"He's going in the right direction, and again, I know it sounds like a broken record, but we'll see how he feels tomorrow and then hopefully it's a green light," Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. "If not, we're prepared to go without him."

Doncic acknowledged that he doesn’t know if he can be 100% in the first round. In 13 career playoff games, Doncic is averaging 33.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 9.5 assists while shooting 49.4% from the field.

Simmons, conversely, has a reputation for shrinking in the postseason. Simmons averaged 11.9 points per game and shot 34.2% from the free-throw line in last year’s playoffs, prompting his inevitable breakup with the Philadelphia 76ers.

In the best-case scenario, Simmons might contribute to Brooklyn off the bench by defending one of Boston’s top scorers. Even when Simmons is fully acclimated into the Nets’ lineup, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be the teams’ top options on offense.

Boston is favored to defeat Brooklyn in the best-of-seven series. The Celtics took a 1-0 series lead on Jayson Tatum’s buzzer-beater.

Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks dribbles against Anfernee Simons #1 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the third quarter at Moda Center on January 26, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images