Sources: Brooklyn Nets hold out hope Ben Simmons can return for 'couple' of regular-season games

Brooklyn Nets star Ben Simmons has remained sidelined with an irritation of the L-4 disc of the lower spine, but there's hope he can return for a "couple" of regular-season games prior to the Eastern Conference playoffs, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

There had been an original target for a return Friday vs. the Portland Trail Blazers, sources said, but that became impossible in recent weeks based on Simmons' inability to go more than a day or two in rehabilitation without pain flaring up in the lower back and resetting his timeline, sources said.

Simmons has continued to receive treatment and to work on strengthening his back and restarting his basketball activities in 1-on-0 settings on the court. With his team in Orlando, Simmons had an epidural shot, coach Steve Nash said Wednesday, and the hope is that will help with the recovery.

The Nets are hopeful that Simmons can return to play in regular-season games prior to a postseason likely to begin in the play-in tournament in mid-April. The Nets play the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers in their two final regular season games April 8 and 10, respectively, prior to the start of the play-in tournament.

The Nets are going to give Simmons a few days to see if the epidural alleviates some pain. "It just depends on the epidural and how he responds," Nash said. "And then they can start to formulate a plan."

The Nets are 36-34 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference now. Teams seeded 7 to 10 must qualify for the playoffs with either one or two victories in the play-in, based on their seeding.

Simmons, 25, was acquired in a blockbuster deal with the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 10. After demanding a trade in the offseason, he remained inactive for the Sixers until the deal, which sent James Harden to Philadelphia.

The Nets are playing with Kevin Durant on full-time status, and with an unvaccinated Kyrie Irving currently eligible only for road games outside of New York. After the Nets' 113-111 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, Durant expressed confidence that Simmons will stay engaged as he continues to make his way back.

"He's a grown up," Durant said. "He's a grown man, he's an All-Star. He's a veteran in this league now. He knows how to keep himself engaged. Like I said before, I'm never going to hold nobody's hand in this league. And he knows that. He don't want nobody to make sure he's being a professional. So I can't wait to get him back, but we don't want to rush him and hopefully he gets back soon and be able to play the game that he loves every day. I know he misses it."

Simmons is a three-time All-Star and two-time All-Defensive first team selection. Simmons averaged 14.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.6 steals for the Sixers last season.

ESPN Staff Writer Nick Friedell contributed to this report.