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Nic Claxton hopes ‘roller coaster year’ will straighten out, speaks on testing positive for COVID-19

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Brooklyn Nets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Nicolas Claxton spoke to the media Saturday afternoon for the first time since coming off the league’s health and safety protocols and admitted it’s been a challenge getting reincorporated to gameplay after testing positive for COVID-19 last month in Miami.

“It’s been somewhat of a challenge but it hasn’t been too tough. I played with the stay-ready once and just starting to get my feet wet. I played a few minutes against Milwaukee. I’m just trying to get my rhythm back and trying to get my wind back right before the playoffs so we’ll be able to make that push.”

Claxton said he tested positive for COVID-19 and had to stay in a room in Miami for 10 days before returning to Brooklyn, ultimately missing seven straight games. The Nets 22-year-old had an exercise bike and a 40-pound weight to utilize while “stuck” in South Beach.

“I was testing positive for COVID but I didn’t have any symptoms so I was stuck in Miami just there quarantining for about 10 days,” Claxton said. “I wasn’t able to do much. I did a few quarantine workouts but it’s just tough having to sit like that and then coming out here having to play. It’s just another obstacle and nothing that I can’t conquer.”

Claxton described what his days were like.

“I was stuck in my room. They had a bike in my room. I was able to use the bike and do some cardio. Also, have a 40-pound weight so I used that to lift weights and stay as active as I could,” Claxton said. “It’s tough being stuck in a room and then being back on the court but I’m happy to be back out here playing the game that I love.”

Claxton didn’t talk about his initial COVID-19 diagnosis. He had traveled with the team to Miami on April 17, his 22nd birthday, then played 24 minutes on the 18th. The Nets, minus Claxton, traveled back to Brooklyn the next day. Two other Nets, Reggie Perry and Alize Johnson, also missed time due to the league’s health and safety protocols. Steve Nash late told reporters that all three players’ absences, related to the team’s stay in Florida, “I believe it’s all stemming back to the Miami trip.”

Claxton has struggled to remain healthy throughout his two-year tenure with Brooklyn. The second-year big has missed time because of a hamstring strain, arthroscopic labrum repair on his left shoulder and right knee tendinopathy ... on top of his latest experience with COVID.

Claxton has played only 486 minutes in 27 games this season — after 187 minutes in 15 games last year. He referred to 2020-21 as a “rollercoaster year.” While rehabbing his left shoulder during the pandemic, he couldn’t sharpen his game to the fullest. Then, his knee injury, discovered in preseason, hurt his development even more. It simply hasn’t gone smoothly throughout his second year.

“Honestly this year has been a rollercoaster year. For me just trying to get back healthy over the summer. I wasn’t really able to fine-tune my game. With our team and all the talent that we have, I really just try to affect the game defensively,” said Claxton on his development this season. “I have games where my defense is sharper than others of course, but that’s something I’m working on just being focused and locked in all the way mentally.

“My development this year; it’s been up and down but with me missing that chunk of games I missed, that was tough too. I just got to focus on the present and finish the season strong.”

He has played a combined 24 minutes in the past two games and will have his plate full Saturday night with the Nuggets MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. Claxton said the Nets have a pretty good game plan to defend the tricky big man.

“[Nikola] Jokic’s work this year speaks for itself. He’s an MVP candidate and we have to throw a lot of bodies at him, be active and make sure we’re communicating on defense,” said Claxton on defending Jokic. “I’m not letting him affect the game with his passing. He’s really skilled offensively, but we just got to be locked in on that. We have a pretty good plan.”

Brooklyn is riding their season-worst four-game losing skid into Denver. When asked about the mood in the locker room and whether there is a sense of pressure, Claxton made it clear there’s none, particularly knowing James Harden will be healthy in the near future.

“There’s definitely no sense of pressure. This is the first time I think all season that we’ve hit some adversity and it’s good that it’s coming right before the playoffs,” Claxton said. “We’re about to have all of our guys back minus Chiozza. We’ll be good going into the playoffs honestly. It’s nothing to worry about. Of course, we got to sharpen a lot of things, especially defensively and the offense is going to come together.”

There is no secret Harden’s impact will be immediately felt once he returns to the hardwood, particularly for Claxton, who Harden has mentored hard. Claxton clarified Harden’s impact, noting how it will make his duties easier on both ends.

“Offensively, when James [Harden] is out there on the court, it makes things a lot easier for guys like myself and guys like Bruce [Brown]. It’s nothing to worry about,” Claxton said. “I’m still affecting the game defensively. I’m still a great defensive player and when James gets back, it’ll make the game a lot easier for everybody offensively and defensively.”

Claxton is averaging 6.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 assists in 18.0 minutes per game. He is nursing an offensive rating of 115.4, a defensive rating of 103.6 and a team-high net rating of 11.8.

Multiple Nets have tested positive for COVID since the pandemic hit 14 months ago. Among the others on the roster who’ve had positive tests at one point or another: Harden, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jeff Green and Landry Shamet.