With the Nets playing three games in four days starting Tuesday at the Garden, their health could be an issue. On Saturday, they were without Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, D’Angelo Russell, and Caris LeVert.
The Nets chose not to play DLo in a back-to-back so soon after his return from knee surgery and LeVert was a late scratch after he experienced soreness in his groin during warm-ups. The Nets, ever so cautious, decided to rest him, but called the injury “minor” and he’s expected back on Tuesday.
Hollis-Jefferson is another issue. He left the Bucks game early and didn’t return. A groin strain was the problem, and Kenny Atkinson won’t say when he’ll be back.
“I don’t want to speculate. I definitely don’t want to speculate on that. I’m not in that department,” Atkinson said, noting the Nets defense suffers without RHJ. “Let’s be honest, it’s a challenge for our defense losing him, it just is. We were finally back to full strength.”
On the other hand, the injuries gave a couple of other Nets big minutes and they took advantage of the opportunity, particularly Jahlil Okafor who scored 21 points in 23 minutes, the most he’s scored since March of last season when he finished with 22 in a 76ers two-point loss to the Warriors. It was part of his last stretch of big minutes in Philly. With Joel Embiid out, Okafor averaged 17 points over five games.
It wasn’t just the box score that impressed. Okafor looked good passing out of the post and played some decent defense against Karl Anthony Towns, a fellow 2015 lottery pick. He talked postgame about his progress.
“I’m just trying to get better every day,” Okafor said when asked about his game. “It doesn’t mean much. I know the work that I put in. Even if it doesn’t always translate to the floor right away, eventually it will. Just keep going, keep working hard, and I was able to be successful tonight.”
He also gave a shout-out to Spencer Dinwiddie.
“Spencer being out there leading, I really enjoy playing with him,” Okafor said. “He’s a hell of a point guard, and he makes my job a lot easier. When I’m on the floor with him, I feel like I’m able to operate a little easier.”
Okafor wasn’t alone. Nik Stauskas played big minutes, including some at back-up point and came away with 15 points in 33 minutes, hitting three of his six three-pointer attempts.
“Nights like this, even though we didn’t come out with the win, the fact we were able to go out there and perform individually, it feels good for us to make a little bit of progress,” said the 24 year old.
Isaiah Whitehead, up from the G League, showed a lot confidence, particularly in the Nets comeback bid. He finished with eight points, including two threes and led the team in plus/minus with a +7.
It’s going to be a busy week for Brooklyn. They play the cross-town rival Knicks on Tuesday, then Wednesday vs. 76ers, a revenge game perhaps for Okafor and Stauskas, before one of the big games on the schedule, Brook Lopez’s return to Brooklyn on Friday and Russell’s second game vs. his old team, the Lakers.
There’ll be a lot of minutes issues, rest issues, injury issues in all of them.
- Nets refuse to let backcourt injuries become major issue - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Jahlil Okafor’s hard work pays off in his best game since joining Nets - Greg Logan - Newsday