PHOENIX, Ariz. — Taking nothing away from a great 34-point performance by Lakers center Brook Lopez to crush his former team Friday night, it didn’t hurt that the Nets were outmanned in the frontcourt by the absence of injured big men Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy and Jarrett Allen. That changes against the Suns on Monday night at Talking Stick Arena when at least one and possibly two of the Nets “bigs” return to action.
Following practice on Sunday, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said Acy (strained left groin) is probable, and Booker (sore lower back) is upgraded to questionable. Both practiced fully, and the only question is how Booker’s back responds overnight. Allen (sore left foot) remains out and did not practice.
Without Booker and Acy, both of whom can play power forward and center, Atkinson has been forced to use small forward DeMarre Carroll more often at power forward. It’s not ideal, and it might have affected the Nets’ early offensive rhythm because of shifting lineups.
“It helps our overall chemistry,” Atkinson said of getting Acy and possibly Booker back. “Our defense suffers a little [without them]. Rebounding, rim protection suffers. It’s more wear and tear on DeMarre’s body, too.”
So far, Booker has missed only the Lakers game. He felt good after Sunday’s practice but must test his back at the Monday morning shoot-around.
“We were definitely missing some big bodies, especially playing against Brook,” Booker said of the Nets’ fourth straight loss. “He had a good game. To have extra bodies out there to bang with him and be physical I’m sure would have helped.”
Booker and Acy, who missed three games, both provide defensive energy and rebounding, and both can make an impact on offense with Booker doing more damage at the rim and Acy spreading the floor with his three-point shooting.
“Anytime you lose three bigs, that’s not going to be good, but they fought hard and competed,” Acy said of the Lakers loss. “Coach expects me to space the floor, so, when I’m out there, I guess it does open it up a little bit more.
“We take pride in the energy of that second unit anytime we step on the floor. To miss both of us probably hurt . . . Me and Book are on the smaller side, but we can also rebound and mix it up.”
Atkinson said the Nets (3-6) reverted to “training-camp mode” in Sunday’s practice when they went over the principles of how to run their offense. The coach said his team had slipped since averaging 121.2 points in the first five games when they were 3-2.
“It was a long coaches’ clinic by me, which I don’t love to do,” Atkinson said. “But I felt like we needed it. Ball movement is a part of it, but we’ve also got to make some shots. That helps . . . Screening and spacing has got to be better. We addressed a lot of those issues and talked about it.”
The Nets’ 9-for-38 three-point shooting against the Lakers included a combined 3-for-22 effort by four of their primary perimeter shooters — D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Carroll. The return of Acy and possibly Booker should help against the Suns, who played Sunday night at San Antonio.
“We get stagnant, and we stray away from team ball at times,” Booker said. “If we put together a 48-minute game where we share the ball the whole time, we’ll be a whole different team.”
Reflecting on the Nets’ three early wins, Booker added, “We probably had 30 or so assists. If we want to win, we’ve got to get back to those ways. We have to be more efficient with our shots and drive the ball and kick it and play team ball.”