Joe Johnson doesn't like dealing with this whole sore left heel thing one bit.
"It's definitely frustrating because for it to happen at this point in the season, for me to have this nagging injury," Johnson told Newsday after scoring 22 points and keying the Nets' second-half surge in a 99-78 road win over the Bobcats Wednesday night. "I've been so healthy throughout the whole regular season, and to get to this point and have this little nick-nack that's just a minor setback . . . I'm just trying to do the necessary things to keep rolling."
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The concern for Johnson is how he comes through back-to-backs, something the Nets (35-26) will be dealing with the next few days, beginning with Friday night's matchup against the Wizards (19-40).
Managing his health is of importance because Johnson's significance can't be overstated. When he isn't on the floor, it's a problem, as shown by the Nets' minus-9.4 point differential. Johnson's plus-3.9 when he's on the court is tops on the team, so interim coach P.J. Carlesimo wants to do all he can to preserve the shooting guard as he attempts to heal during the final stretch of the season.
Carlesimo is going to defer to Johnson and trainer Tim Walsh, leaning on their collaborative decision-making when it comes to Johnson's minutes.
Johnson said once he begins running a bit during games, his heel loosens up and it's not as painful. The most discomfort comes after a back-to-back, which is why he's going to have to be careful during the next week.
"I think we just need to [let him] play and he's got to tell us during the course of a game," Carlesimo said. "If it doesn't bother him at all during the course of a game, a game like [Wednesday], we'll play it pretty much the same. If we have a choice of limiting his minutes a little bit, we will. A lot's going to depend on what he says [Thursday] and going into Friday, Saturday."
After squaring off against the Wizards' quick backcourt, the Nets have another tough test Saturday in Atlanta against Johnson's old team, the Hawks. The booing awaiting him might not be any worse than what he heard there in the Nets' 109-95 loss in January, but if he's healthy, he thinks having gone through the experience of returning once should be beneficial.
"It'll definitely make it easier, but it's still a game, a challenge that I'm looking forward to for us as a team," Johnson said, "considering the fact they are pretty good at home and we've got to pick our play up on the road.
"We owe them."