INDIANAPOLIS — If the Nets’ only problems in their disappointing 140-131 loss to Indiana Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse were their poor defensive performance and turnovers, they could live with that because those mistakes are correctable.
But when Jeremy Lin was knocked to the floor with 4:53 left to play and limped to the locker room having obvious trouble putting weight on his right leg, it undoubtedly gave Nets fans a sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs. The Nets struggled to the worst record in the NBA last season at 20-62 in large part because repeated hamstring injuries limited Lin to just 36 games.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson reported that Lin has a right knee injury and will be examined Thursday. “It’s not a good night for the Nets,” Atkinson said. “We’re not playing well here on the road and then an injury on top of it. These are the type of situations that make you stronger. I think we have a strong locker room in there, and a strong staff that’s going to keep it together.”
Trailing by 10 shortly after Lin retired for the night, the Nets got within four points but couldn’t get the stops they needed. D’Angelo Russell provided the high point with five assists and 30 points, a franchise record for a player in his Nets debut. Trevor Booker was terrific off the bench with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Lin racked up 18 points, and the Nets got double figures from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (14), Caris LeVert (12), Allen Crabbe (12) and DeMarre Carroll (10).
“He’s a really good player,” Atkinson said of Russell. “He had an excellent preseason. It doesn’t surprise me.”
But the Nets committed 20 turnovers leading to 25 Pacers points and allowed the home team to shoot 52.0 percent from the field. The Pacers had eight players in double figures topped by Victor Oladipo with 22, Myles Turner with 21 and 17 rebounds and Darren Collison with 21. The Pacers scored 41 points in the third quarter and 75 in the second half.
The defensive breakdown had Atkinson hinting at possible changes. “It was a complete breakdown defensively,” Atkinson said. “It’s disappointing because I thought we made strides in the preseason and played well defensively. Obviously, we’re going to have to find guys that want to defend.”
More than the loss, the injury to Lin cast a pall over the visiting locker room, especially for those Nets who saw what Lin went through last season and saw the positive impact he made at the end of the season when he was healthy.
“It’s definitely tough,” Booker said. “He battled through injuries last year. To see him go down the first game, it has to be tough for him. You can only feel for him. We definitely hope he’s OK, but at the same time, other guys have got to be ready to step up.”
Turnovers clearly fueled the Pacers’ biggest offensive output in seven seasons. Every time the Nets surged, they were hurt by their own mistakes.
“That was a huge part of how they got going,” Booker said. “They got easy baskets and really started getting confident and getting going.”
Now, the Nets must adjust to Lin’s injury before the home opener against Orlando Friday night. It won’t be surprising if Crabbe opens in the backcourt alongside Russell. He played well in his Nets debut, sparking a 9-0 second quarter run with several good defensive plays.
“We scored 131 points,” Crabbe said. “That shows what we can do offensively, but . . . defense is the main emphasis for us and 140 is crazy. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the first game. We’ve got 81 left.”
The question is how many of those will Lin play?