Andre Drummond of the Nets reacts after an injury during the...

Andre Drummond of the Nets reacts after an injury during the first half against the Raptors at Barclays Center on Monday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Nets lost another key piece Tuesday as they continue to tread water while awaiting the return of their superstars.

Andre Drummond, who hit the floor hard minutes into the first quarter Monday, grabbed his left knee and limped to the bench, but eventually returned to action in their loss to the Raptors.However, he was ruled out of Tuesday’s rematch with knee soreness. The Nets don’t believe the injury is serious, acting coach Jacque Vaughn said, but want to be cautious in the second game of a back-to-back.

The Nets are already without Kevin Durant, who may make it back from his MCL sprain as early as Thursday, and coach Steve Nash, who entered the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols Monday. Kyrie Irving could not travel with the team because of Ontario’s vaccination requirement, and Ben Simmons (reconditioning) is still a week or more away from practicing. Joe Harris (ankle surgery) remained out.

Trepidation around the big man’s usage does make sense, since he was primarily coming off the bench for limited minutes before the trade that sent him to Brooklyn, and Tuesday’s was the second game in a home-and-away back-to-back. Nash previously said the Nets, who struggled finding continuity at the 5 before the trade, were hoping to get significant contributions from the 28-year-old former All Star.

Cam Thomas, who appeared to hurt his hand Monday going up for a layup and was diagnosed with a left-hand sprain, was classified as available about an hour before tipoff. Vaughn could not say if there would be any limitations on the breakout rookie.

Nash remains in protocols

Nash, who entered health and safety protocols right before Monday’s loss, did not travel with the team to Toronto.

Vaughn said he had no update on when the Nets can expect him back. Players and team personnel who test positive must isolate for at least six days, provided they are asymptomatic, or until they return two consecutive negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart.

"When I talked to him, he was in good spirits," Vaughn said. "He didn't intimate any other symptoms. But overall, he was feeling OK . . . He’s just bummed he can’t be with us."

Pacing Mills

After a strong start to the season where he averaged the highest minutes of his career, 33-year-old Patty Mills entered Tuesday in a shooting slump — having scored four points total in the last three games, and averaging 5.3 points in eight of his last nine games. He did have a 22-point game during that span, and Vaughn believes he’ll snap back into form.

"I think the challenge is we've had so many different lineups and we all know players do like consistency and routine and so we've asked a lot of him," Vaughn said. "He's answered the bell a lot of nights for us and I said it last night, we love him, we trust him, we know he's going to be big for us and has been big for us. That doesn't change. It's just part of the season, and even as a shooter, [something] you go through. But you know, one shot goes in, and things can definitely turn for our favor."

He added that they continue to keep an eye on Mills, who also played in the Olympics and took part in the All-Star shooting contest, and that the Nets look for ways to make sure he’s not overextended. That includes giving him moments of rest during practice and shootarounds.

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