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Blake Griffin, new teammates eager for him to make his Nets debut against Wizards

Blake Griffin #2 of the Nets warms up

Blake Griffin #2 of the Nets warms up before a game against the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center on Sunday, Mar. 21, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Blake Griffin last played an NBA game on Feb. 12. And his production this season with the Pistons when he did play – 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 36.5% shooting and 31.5% from three-point range – was substantially below the career numbers for a six-time former All-Star.

Still, Griffin and his new teammates were brimming with excitement for the free agent to make his Nets debut against the Wizards Sunday night at Barclays Center. He was expected to be on a minutes restriction while regaining his conditioning, and Nets coach Steve Nash was planning to use him off the bench with the supporting cast. But he’s Blake Griffin, and that means he has the potential to be a very valuable piece of the championship puzzle the Nets are trying to fashion.

"I’m very excited, very excited," Griffin said after going through shootaround Sunday morning. "I didn’t get a great night’s sleep last night. That’s probably my best indication I was excited. I’ve played so many games and they all feel the same, but coming here, new environment, new team, and the excitement got to me a little bit. But I’ll be ready."

The Nets have their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden in place, but if Griffin can reach back in time to regain a semblance of his former high-flying self, he might be a difference-maker. Without a doubt, his experience as one of the NBA’s top stars adds to the basketball IQ in the Nets’ locker room.

Asked what he has learned about his new teammates since signing a couple weeks earlier during the All-Star break after securing a buyout from the Pistons, Griffin said, "How well they communicate. James, Kyrie, DJ, some of the older guys do such a great job of communicating with each other, communicating with our team.

"Our coaching staff does a really great job of overseeing all that and not jumping in and trying to say too much, like, ‘Hey, we’re only going to do it this way.’ It’s nice to be around a group of guys that are like that. I’m excited just to get out there and contribute and help."

Since joining the Nets, Griffin has worked with the performance staff to regain his conditioning. He has played a little five-on-five but concentrated primarily on one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three work while doing a lot of running.

His play has declined in recent years as a result of two operations on his left knee. Griffin has not used his trademark dunking ability since 2019, but in one recent interview, he promised he still has the ability to dunk and plans to bring it out of the closet with the Nets.

Asked if the Nets’ performance staff focused on building up his surgically repaired knee, Griffin said, "They put together a plan more so in terms of my entire body. It hasn’t really been the main focus. I felt great when I got here. Those four weeks that I was not playing, I had a lot of time to get my legs back under me. Once I got here, I sort of stepped into this program, so I don’t really have an injury."

Nash likes the idea of using Griffin as a small-ball center with the second unit, but he also can fill a traditional power forward role. Watching from the bench the past two weeks has helped Griffin visualize the transition.

"When you play with players as dynamic as we have, they make life easier," Griffin said. "I’ll definitely pick my spots here and there, but you also kind of have to see how it plays out to me and how we look on the court. So I have an idea, but obviously, things can change."

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