The Nets are going through a bleak time losing 24 of their past 25 games and 15 straight at home before facing Milwaukee on Wednesday night at Barclays Center in their final home game before the All-Star break.
But a ray of sunshine broke through the gloom on Tuesday when Jeremy Lin was cleared to return to practice.
Coach Kenny Atkinson said Lin will not play against the Bucks, but barring any further setbacks, he expects his point guard to be ready to go when the Nets come back from the All-Star break and begin an eight-game road trip Feb. 24 in Denver.
Lin has played only 12 games this season for the Nets, whose 9-46 record is by far the worst in the NBA. He missed one 40-day stretch with a left hamstring injury, returned and then reinjured himself on Dec. 26 and has been out since then.
Atkinson said Lin shot well in practice and his presence lifted everyone, but he must work at improving his cardio fitness during the break before he plays in Denver.
“Yeah, yeah,” Atkinson said when asked if he expects Lin to play against the Nuggets. “And then we’ve got to see the minutes, how that looks, the gradual buildup. He does have this 10-day period. But I’m not sure exactly what that minutes restriction is going to look like, or if there’ll be one.”
Lin laughed when he described his first practice.
“I didn’t play great, but I was competitive,” he said.
During the break, Lin said he would follow a detailed rehab plan away from the Nets’ practice facility, and noted he will have two more practices with his teammates before the flight to Denver.
Watching his teammates struggle without him has been difficult, Lin admitted.
“I feel for the guys because they’re playing hard, they’re playing the right way, they’re moving the ball, trying to do the right things,” Lin said. “They’re giving effort, and sometimes, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, we have a good lead, we’re in control, and we lose it.
“I’m not going to lie. It wears on everybody. I walk in there, and I just feel bad. I feel bad. I’m a little bit upset at myself. I just feel bad for the whole situation, really.”
With the NBA’s Feb. 23 trade deadline approaching, the Nets have had scant opportunity to evaluate how the pairing of Lin with center Brook Lopez looks before they must make a decision on whether to trade Lopez. Lin is hoping they get a shot together in the final 27 games after the All-Star break.
“I think it would mean a lot because I think I could make his job a lot easier and vice versa,” Lin said of Lopez. “You see sometimes in the fourth quarter [after] he’s had a good first three quarters and it dries up in the fourth quarter. It’s hard because they’re putting even more pressure on him, sending more guys at him. I think I can help him with that and vice versa. We’ve already talked about wanting to get back on the floor. I love playing with him, and he’s a great guy.”