What is the Nets’ most fervent wish for the New Year? It’s the same wish they have and never seem to get every year — good health.
As 2019 approaches, the Nets’ 17-21 record has them in their best position ever in the third season of the Sean Marks-Kenny Atkinson regime, and yet they find themselves struggling on the injury front just like their first two seasons.
The dislocated ankle suffered by leading scorer Caris LeVert on Nov. 12 is the major issue, and while no timetable for his return has been established, he’s likely to be out until the All-Star break in February.
But they also lost starting forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for an undetermined time with a right adductor (groin) strain in Saturday night’s loss at Milwaukee, and there was no update on his condition Sunday. Allen Crabbe (sore right knee) apparently is close to returning and might be available for the Nets’ next game against the Pelicans on Wednesday night at Barclays Center, but he has missed nine straight games, and a comeback from extended injury often requires a rebuilding process.
Treveon Graham still hasn’t played this season while recovering from a strained hamstring, D’Angelo Russell and Ed Davis were rested Saturday against the Bucks, and Atkinson said Spencer Dinwiddie has shown signs of fatigue. He has tailed off from his torrid pace to total 13 points in his past two games.
“We’re dealing with stuff,” Atkinson said. “I think at this time of the year, it happens. We have a deep enough roster to handle it. I think we’re deeper than in past years. Like tonight, I thought our bench did a good job covering for the guys that were out.”
Atkinson was referring to excellent outings off the bench by Shabazz Napier, who scored 32 points against the Bucks, and by Kenneth Faried, who saw his first meaningful minutes of the season and responded with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Without a doubt, the presence of quality, experienced veterans on the roster is a major upgrade over the previous two seasons, and both Napier and Faried worked hard to remain positive throughout their extended bench stints.
“You understand sometimes it may not be your number that the coach calls,” Napier said. “I understood that. I know how to play. Faried coming from the Denver Nuggets, he knows he knows how to play. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to be professional about it. If your number is called, you be ready. If it doesn’t get called, you support.”
Faried, who went from being a workhorse for the Nuggets for several seasons to a little-used spare part in his last season there before being traded to the Nets, was grateful for the opportunity to showcase himself. “It’s very meaningful,” he said. “I love basketball. I haven’t played in a year, almost two years it feels like to me. The last time I played true meaningful minutes, I think, was 2017 with the Nuggets. For me, when I went out there, I felt relief. It felt good to be out there. My teammates were encouraging me. I love performing under them lights.”
If Hollis-Jefferson is out for an extended period, Atkinson has multiple ways to adjust, and one of those might involve Faried. But as much as he might want to play, Faried said, “I don’t like to see anybody go down. Injuries always affect teams and always affect people. I’m hoping he can bounce back. But we’ve got to keep this ship moving just like when Caris got hurt. Whatever Coach decides, I’m with it. I’m going to be ready for whatever.”