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Rondae Hollis-Jefferson returns from paternity leave to help bolster defense

Nets' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson speaks to reporters at practice

Nets' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson speaks to reporters at practice at HSS Training Center in Brooklyn on Sept. 28. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Paternity leave is over for Nets power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and he’s returning to work Wednesday night in Cleveland. Not a moment too soon for a Nets defense that tends to struggle without his emotional leadership and 7-3 wingspan patrolling the paint.

“I definitely can come out and contribute defensively just being a vocal, energetic and hardworking guy,” Hollis-Jefferson said Monday after practice. “It’s just about doing whatever they need me to do and doing that extremely well.”

Normally, Hollis-Jefferson is in the starting lineup, but he sat out the season opener in Detroit at the end of a two-month recovery period from an adductor strain suffered in early August. He was set to make his comeback in the home opener but his girlfriend gave birth to the couple’s first child last Friday, and his new responsibilities as a father came first as Hollis-Jefferson sat out the next two games for obvious personal reasons.

Hollis-Jefferson smiled when asked how his life has changed. “Less sleep, but it’s been good,” he said. “My lady, she’s really understanding, knowing this is going to be my first game coming back with trying to get sleep and understanding that it’s paramount that I get it.”

Hollis-Jefferson said his newborn son’s name is Rylen. “Mom picked it,” he said. Smart man.

“It’s a great feeling, a wonderful feeling. Just to see a little baby that’s yours and to just know that you have someone else to look after and care for, be there for.”

In that respect, Hollis-Jefferson admitted it was tough to leave his son to get back to practice with the Nets. “Just seeing him sleep or something, I always kiss him on the forehead,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It’s just great to do it to let him know you love him and you care.”

Dating back to last season, the Nets are 3-14 in games in which Hollis-Jefferson has not played. Coach Kenny Atkinson has called him the team’s best defender, and coming off a game at Indiana where the Nets gave up 132 points in a blowout loss to the Pacers, they can use him even if Hollis-Jefferson is coming off the bench for limited playing time.

“The No. 1 thing about playing good defense is personnel,” Atkinson said. “Having him back should be a boost for our defense because he can guard a lot of different guys, his 7-3 wingspan, versatility, can guard five positions, and he’s a good rebounder.”

Hollis-Jefferson said he wants to be viewed by his teammates as “being the go-to guy defensively. That’s something I’m going to take pride in.”

Notes & quotes: Shabazz Napier (hamstring) practiced fully and is expected to make his Nets debut at Cleveland, rookie Rodions Kurucs (sprained ankle) is listed as day-to-day, and forwards Treveon Graham (hamstring) and DeMarre Carroll (ankle surgery) are out indefinitely.

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