Jeremy Lin can’t return soon enough from the injury list if the Nets hope to regain the competitive edge they displayed to begin this season.In the nine games Lin has missed since suffering a strained left hamstring, the Nets (4-10) have gone 2-7, including five straight losses in which they have been overmatched by the opposing backcourt.
When they face the Pacers (7-9) on Friday night in Indianapolis, it will have been 23 days since Lin suffered his injury in a win over Detroit. He has made significant progress in individual workouts but hasn’t been cleared to practice fully. Coach Kenny Atkinson made it clear that the organization will take a cautious approach and have him return gradually to regain full strength.
Until that point, the Nets must do the best they can with an inexperienced backcourt that also lost Lin’s veteran backup, Greivis Vasquez, earlier this season when he had trouble coming back from last December’s ankle surgery. For now, rookie Isaiah Whitehead is the starting point guard and is backed up by rookie free agent Yogi Ferrell and veteran Randy Foye.
Sean Kilpatrick often has been forced to shift from two-guard to the point, and he led the Nets with 23 points in a 111-92 loss to the Celtics on Wednesday night, but it’s a new role for him. The Nets couldn’t contain the Celtics’ backcourt combination of Isaiah Thomas (23 points, five assists) and Avery Bradley (22 points, seven rebounds, five steals).
“Listen, I think Isaiah, for a first-year guy, really got after it defensively,” Atkinson said after the game. “Obviously, there’s a big learning curve offensively. I thought Sean gave us some good minutes. So we’re going to have to do that by committee until Jeremy comes back and keep getting better at it. Hopefully, the more games we play, the more comfortable they get, and we’ll be a little better.”
Each game is a learning experience for Whitehead, a second-round draft pick who moved to point guard only last season as a sophomore at Seton Hall, and it was another tough lesson against Thomas and Bradley. “It was a huge task,” Whitehead said of the Celtics’ pair. “I mean, those guys are great players. I think we made them take tough shots, and they hit a couple of tough shots that kind of drained us a little bit . . . They really just picked us apart on defense and just ran their stuff.”
Whitehead denied feeling the pressure of his starting role, saying, “Pressure is over with. I started a couple times, so that’s behind me.”
Kilpatrick has shown explosive scoring ability at times, but his ballhandling is rough around the edges, and when he’s at the point, he’s worried about creating for others. But he accepts the responsibility that comes with dual roles.
“It is what it is,” Kilpatrick said. “If you’re in the NBA and you’re called in certain situations to do things for the team to win, that’s something the coaches are instilling in the guards. If we want to win and continue to make strides, that’s something we have to do.”