The holding pattern continues for Kyrie Irving, who still has not been cleared for contact and will miss his 13th straight game when the Nets face the Hornets Wednesday night at Barclays Center. At the same time, the Nets have done a tremendous job of holding the fort with a 9-3 record in Irving’s absence with Spencer Dinwiddie running the team to rave reviews.
Asked following practice on Monday if Irving had been cleared for contact, coach Kenny Atkinson offered what has become a familiar mantra. “No contact,” Atkinson said. “He did on-court work today. I think that’s kind of the next step and integrating him into the team situation when that happens.”
Irving is suffering from a right shoulder impingement, which can be a very painful injury that sometimes even requires surgery. The Nets have given no indication that might be necessary, but Atkinson acknowledged that pain is impacting Irving.
“I do think it is painful,” Atkinson said. “I think shoulders are really tricky, especially with the shooting piece involved and what that involves. I do think he’s in pain, but I don’t know what degree it is . . . I’m sure it’s frustrating for him.”
Atkinson said Irving gets treatment from the Nets’ performance team before and after his on-court work. “We get feedback from that,” Atkinson said. “I don’t think there’s any setbacks in that regard. It hasn’t been like, ‘Oh man, he can’t be on court.’”
The last time Irving spoke to the media was Nov. 14 in Denver following the last game he played, but Joe Harris, who knows Irving from their days in Cleveland, said the veteran point guard is handling his down time well.
“He’s just trying to get healthy,” Harris said. “Everybody’s encouraging him, and we obviously want guys to feel healthy and feel like they’re ready to play. The same with Caris [LeVert, recovering from thumb surgery]. You don’t want to rush anybody back. You just want guys to be as close to 100% as they can be.”
Since Irving went down, the Nets (13-10) have gone 9-3 and currently are riding a three-game win streak. Dinwiddie is averaging 23.8 points and 7.6 assists as the starter, and the Nets have passed out 24 assists or more in seven straight games after reaching that mark only six times in the first 16 games. They had a season-high 35 assists in a win over the Hornets Friday in Charlotte.
Without a doubt, the Nets’ ball movement has improved dramatically with Dinwiddie. The question is whether the Nets can maintain that style when Irving returns.
“I think so,” veteran center DeAndre Jordan said. “I think everybody is getting better. We’re learning to play in these tight, end-of-game situations without our closers and guys who are really valuable to our team.”
Motioning to where injured Kevin Durant was standing on the opposite side of the practice court, Jordan added, “Obviously, the 6-10 slender gentleman down there is out for a while. Our team is going to change once he’s back. But with Caris and Ky out, we’ve got to adjust. So, whenever they come back, I think we’ll be an even stronger team.”