PORTLAND, Ore. — No one on the Nets wants to use injuries as an excuse for their inconsistent play because every team in the NBA has them. But realistically, the Nets figured to struggle while blending six new players into the rotation, so the rash of injuries they have suffered has compounded the problems of a 4-7 team in the early going.
The Nets were missing power forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker as well as rookie center Jarrett Allen, their best rim protector, for a 112-104 loss Tuesday night in Denver. Coach Kenny Atkinson admitted going with some “funky lineups” because he was forced to mix in a seventh new face, two-way contract forward Jacob Wiley, for 21 minutes as part of the regular rotation.
“We had a lot of guys out,” said DeMarre Carroll, who moved from small forward to start at the four position. “You’re missing all your four men, Rondae and Trevor, and Quincy [Acy] is just getting back. It’s a challenge for us, but we have to keep fighting our way out.”
Atkinson is hopeful Hollis-Jefferson (hip contusion) and Booker (sore lower back) can return Friday night against the Trail Blazers. But there are no guarantees. Acy previously missed three games and his shooting has been off since returning the past two games. Booker has missed three straight, Allen has missed four and Hollis-Jefferson missed his first game in Denver.
To take it a step further, the Nets worked in the offseason and training camp with Jeremy Lin as starting point guard only to lose him for the season with a ruptured patella tendon in the opener. Newcomer Allen Crabbe and second-year man Caris LeVert missed part of camp plus two preseason games with injuries, and Carroll and current starting point guard D’Angelo Russell each have missed a game.
“It’s a challenge for continuity, which is the big thing, especially with a new team, just getting your rhythm,” Atkinson said. “It’s continuity in the lineups where you want the same guys playing together. We’re mixing and matching right now.”
Backup center Tyler Zeller, who has played since Allen (strained left foot) went down and scored 21 against the Nuggets, explained it this way: “It’s just uncomfortable. Changing lineups all the time makes it very difficult.
“You don’t know who you’re playing with or where guys are going to be. Rondae is a much different player than Quincy, so you’ve got to get used to different guys and different lineups. Sometimes, when our guards are driving, they’re looking for Rondae and Quincy is wide open for a three. It’s something we’ve got to get better at.”
No doubt, shifting lineups have contributed to Russell’s ups and downs in his first year with a new team and system. “I don’t really have an answer,” Russell said of his inconsistency. “I’ve got to be better and more focused.”
The first quarter of the season figured to be a breaking-in period for the new-look Nets, but they couldn’t have expected so many breakdowns. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to get healthy,” Carroll said. “Once we get healthy, we’ve got to try to get this thing rolling.”