If timing is everything, the timing couldn’t be better for D’Angelo Russell to rejoin the Nets’ lineup than against Miami on Friday night at Barclays Center. The Nets have lost six of their past seven games, but four of those losses were by six points or less, suggesting they need a little more firepower to be successful.
The Nets were off Thursday, and there was no media availability after Russell was officially listed as probable for the game. But coach Kenny Atkinson recently praised the work Russell put in after suffering a left knee injury Nov. 11 at Utah and undergoing arthroscopic surgery Nov. 17, exactly nine weeks before his scheduled return. He missed the past 32 games.
“With D’Angelo, he’s been on a regimented rehab program,” Atkinson said. “You’re talking four or five hours a day, correctives, rehab, medicals. There’s a high level of responsibility to that type of program. I told D’Angelo, ‘In the long run, this will be a positive for you, just having to dig in like you’re digging in.’ ”
Atkinson previously said Russell will be eased back into the playing rotation, and it’s uncertain whether he will start or come off the bench at first. In the absence of Russell and Jeremy Lin, who was lost for the season after rupturing a patella tendon in the opener, Spencer Dinwiddie took over as starting point guard and earned plaudits for his leadership and league-leading 4.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.
But Dinwiddie undoubtedly will welcome the return of Russell, the Nets’ leading scorer at 20.9 points per game, to relieve pressure from defenses that lately have focused on pressuring him. In the past three straight Nets losses, Dinwiddie’s 9-for-43 overall shooting and 2-for-19 three-point shooting dropped his percentages to 38.8 overall and 33.6 from long range.
Dinwiddie recorded a career-high 13 assists with zero turnovers and scored seven straight points late in the fourth quarter of a 100-95 loss to the Spurs on Wednesday night at Barclays Center, but it was what he didn’t do that bothered him.
“For the past three games, I’ve been broke,” said Dinwiddie, who has been the Nets’ clear floor leader this season. “The Knicks game got out of hand, but Washington and the Spurs games, I left too many points on the board for us to get those wins. For us to be a good team, I can’t play in that fashion.
“Is it something that people are doing? Not really. I just missed. Quite frankly, it’s not like I feel people can stop me. I can’t be out there shooting twenty-something percent, especially in close games, because it hurts. I have to apologize to my teammates.”
Maybe Russell can be the missing piece the Nets need to get over the hump.