The Nets are mired in a seven-game losing streak and will play six of their next seven games against teams in playoff position, starting with the Heat on Friday night at Barclays Center. But they got a shot of adrenaline — or maybe a shot of pain-killing cortisone — when Kyrie Irving joined them for his first full-contact, five-on-five practice since he last played on Nov. 14.
Irving won’t be available to play against the Heat, but his smile and exuberant demeanor when he spoke with the media after practice on Thursday spoke volumes about how his right shoulder impingement is responding to the cortisone shot he took on Dec. 24.
Irving said he began two-on-two practice sessions more than a week ago before progressing to the five-on-five scrimmage with the full squad, and he spoke optimistically of returning to game action in about a week.
Describing his focus during the scrimmage, in which he worked with the first and second units, Irving said, “It’s my shooting shoulder, so me going right on my drives, I’ve got to mix it up a little bit and just work on my floaters, work on my touch around the rim. Hopefully, I get some game reps in addition to this practice, but probably in the next week or so. It could be less than that, but I’m going to give myself a week and just see where we go from there with another evaluation.”
Irving outlined a schedule in which he will be evaluated Friday morning coming off his first full practice and expects to practice again Saturday. The Nets will begin a stretch of three games in four nights on Sunday at home against Atlanta, and it seems unlikely that he will return in that time frame. But the Nets have another practice on Jan. 17 and a home game the next night against the Bucks, and that falls within the parameters Irving described for his return.
Asked if he was upbeat after experiencing a breakthrough following the cortisone shot, Irving offered a detailed explanation in which he admitted suffering a “setback” in November before agreeing to the pain-killing injection. He said the bursa sac in his right shoulder and the muscles that help the shoulder move correctly started “shutting down.”
“I started losing a lot of weight, I started losing a lot of strength, and after that time, you’ve got to build it back up,” Irving said. “In those two weeks after the Denver game [on Nov. 14], I lost a lot of strength just because I was resting and trying to get back on the court. I started doing exercises a little bit too soon. That was a setback.
“So there were things that happened in the last month and a half that really put me in this position. But after the cortisone, it gave me a great stepping stone to continue progress and work my way back to the floor.”
Last Saturday, in his first comments in 50 days since suffering the injury, Irving raised the possibility of undergoing surgery, but on Thursday, he said, “I’m not even trying to think about that right now, man. I’m just trying to do the next step in the progression and leave it all out there and just give my best and what I can do in rehabbing and getting back out here to be with my teammates.
“My shoulder was swollen inside, the bursa could possibly be inflamed even more if I kept playing, so the cortisone was going to alleviate that or at least subside some of that pain and give me enough of a ‘feel-good space’ to go out there and progress with rehab and then going out there and playing.”
Coach Kenny Atkinson was thrilled by Irving’s return to full practice. “Forget the basketball part, it’s his personality,” Atkinson said. “It was great timing. I think we needed a boost of morale, and he definitely has that type of personality that lights up a room. He can light up a court, too, so that helps.
“It’s only one practice. We did a review of our whole offense. Script session. We tweaked a few things. I think that was important for Kyrie . . . and we put in a blueprint and then we scrimmaged.”
It looked like progress to better days ahead.