The lift still isn’t there. His jumpshot is off. Explosiveness is vanishing.
Joe Johnson is gutting it out, fighting it as best he can. But these days, the guy who the Nets have been able to count on the most since moving to Brooklyn, is hurting and it’s yet another issue they must contend with in a season that’s descending into dangerous territory.
A week after telling Newsday he has a few “nicknacks” and “some time off would probably be needed,” Johnson revealed exactly what he’s dealing with following Saturday night’s rough 108-73 to the Jazz. The Nets’ swingman is really hurting.
“I’ve just got tendinitis real bad in my right knee and in my left ankle,” Johnson said after scoring six points in 28:53. “I’ve been playing with both of them, and been pretty banged up for probably about the past month and a half or so. We don’t have time to have guys sit and rest, like some other teams do. We just don’t have the roster for that, so I just have to play through it.”
Since it’s something he’s experienced before — like almost at this exact stage of the season a year ago — Johnson knows how to manage it and the only true way for the tendinitis to calm down is for him to stay off his feet as much as possible. But with a grueling five-game stretch on the horizon, beginning with tonight’s matchup with the Blazers, and given they’re now on the outside of the playoff race looking up at the other eight teams ahead of them, Johnson isn’t about to tap out.
“Well, Joe’s struggling a little bit physically, but he’s hung in there and he keeps playing,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “He doesn’t ask to come out, he doesn't ask to sit down. We’ve got to have other people step up and play better so he can get more rest.”
Other than in Wednesday’s win against the Kings when he netted six huge points in the final 1:11 to preserve things, he simply hasn’t looked like himself. Johnson’s numbers have taken a serious dip this month. In 13 games, he’s shooting 36.2 percent from the floor and 29 percent beyond the arc, averaging 13.1 points.
“I mean, it’s hard to explode and push off my left knee, which kind of enables my mobility a little bit, or just moving my feet defensively,” Johnson said. “But some games it feels great. I think we had three days off [last week] and we practiced, and I think I rested two days before the Sacramento game, and I had a little pop that game, then came back with the back-to-back in L.A., which wasn’t so great, and [Friday] off which was pretty good. But it still just kind of lingered.”
Johnson admitted that having to guard some of the league’s best small forwards, something he didn’t have to do all that often last season at shooting guard, also isn’t helping things much. No way, though, is he about to start asking for sympathy. From anyone.
“I’m a competitor, man,” Johnson said. “I’ve never went to coach and complained about anything. I just play through it. I just keep doing that.”
Still, probably no one on the team is looking forward to some down time in a couple of weeks more than Johnson. He’ll get that opportunity for the better part of seven days beginning on Feb. 11 when New York becomes the NBA’s All-Star playground.
“That’s my focus right now,” Johnson said. “Just try to grind through it to the All-Star break, and I’m sure I’ll take advantage of that time and just try to be ready for the second half.”