When he spoke to the media Thursday afternoon, Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was in a playful mood, joking easily about his “ultra-factual statement” about the Nets being New York’s best team and the uproar that created among Knicks fans on social media since that preseason remark.
But the fun went out of the buildup to the season’s final Nets-Knicks game Friday night at Barclays Center when the Nets announced later Thursday evening that Dinwiddie is questionable and is being evaluated for a right thumb injury.
An NBA source declined to confirm reports that Dinwiddie suffered torn ligaments that might require surgery, and the Nets indicated they will issue an update after a further diagnosis is completed Friday.
Dinwiddie took a fall during the Nets’ win over the Magic on Wednesday, landing hard on his right hand, but continued to play and scored 29 points. On Thursday, he took part in the team’s video session and walk-through, but there was no real practice.
When Dinwiddie spoke to reporters, he sounded like someone who expected to play. But about three hours later, Caron Butler, a former teammate of Dinwiddie’s in Detroit, posted a tweet in which he said Dinwiddie “has torn ligaments in his finger. He will get two other evaluations to confirm the diagnosis before a decision is made about further action.”
The Nets’ subsequent statement made it clear that the injury is to Dinwiddie’s right thumb. Forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who suffered a left shoulder strain against the Magic, also was added to the injury report.
The injury news put a damper on the enthusiasm surrounding a team that — backing up Dinwiddie’s words — is on a five-game winning streak and has gone 18-5 in the past 23 games to climb to 26-23 overall and sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Both the Nets and Knicks were 8-16 on Dec. 1, but the Knicks have lost seven straight, 15 of 16 and 20 of 22 since then to drop to 10-36, 14 1⁄2 games behind the Nets.
The Nets managed their turnaround despite long-term injuries that have sidelined Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe and disabled several other players for shorter stints.
Now they might lose Dinwiddie, who is averaging 17.2 points and 5.0 assists and has established himself as a candidate for the Sixth Man award. If he is out for any length of time, the Nets again will call upon the resiliency that has characterized them this season.
As Joe Harris said when asked Thursday what pleased him most about the Nets this season, “We had some tough bumps in the road early on and it could have been really easy just to pack it in and accept the fact that it’s going to be a difficult season. But we stuck with it, turned the season around and we’ve been able to build off that.”
While most of the Nets stressed the importance of beating the Knicks to continue their playoff push, all admit to being bothered by how Knicks fans invade Barclays Center and take over. But the Nets lately have noticed increased fan support at home.
“Oh man, we feel it,” Harris said. “The energy has been almost contagious. You know our fans have been fantastic all year. They have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as fans, too, probably when you think about it in years past with the Knicks fans being able to overwhelm us in our own arena. But we expect a good showing.”
Before there was any talk about the injury, Dinwiddie knew what was coming Thursday, so he smiled big for the camera and enjoyed the moment when YES Network Nets reporter Michael Grady asked about the key to beating the Knicks on Friday night.
With not a little sarcasm, Dinwiddie offered up an intentionally saccharine answer: “The Knicks are a very hard-working team. It hasn’t always shown in their record, but we’re going to go out there and play hard and treat it like any other game.”
Of course, it was Dinwiddie who stoked the social media bonfires during the preseason when he tweeted that the Knicks “aren’t even the best team in New York” and proceeded to double down on those comments.
The Nets have a 2-1 edge in the season series, so Dinwiddie was asked if it’s important to back up his declaration of the Nets as “New York’s best.”
“Oh, of course,” he responded. “I mean, I certainly hope we go out there and back up my ultra-factual statement that I made at the beginning of the year.”
Asked if he expects the Knicks to be motivated by his remarks, Dinwiddie referred to his 25-point game in the previous Nets win at the Garden, saying, “Shouldn’t they have done that last game? I think they understand as basketball players that nothing I said was inflammatory. I didn’t say any of their players were bums or anything like that.”
As a player who often engages the public via social media, he said Knicks fans have blown up his Twitter feed all season. “When the Knicks do anything of a remote positive nature, I hear about it,” said Dinwiddie, who added that most of the comments point to the Knicks’ attendance and the history of Madison Square Garden.
“All the rebuttals that I’ve gotten from Knicks fans have absolutely nothing to do with the statement that I made,” Dinwiddie said. “I don’t know what to tell them. They can have that. You guys beat us in attendance.
“Is it funny? Of course it is. If I said, like, ‘Hey, you’re ugly’ and you said, ‘Hey, I’m rich,’ it doesn’t mean you’re not ugly. You know what I’m saying? It’s like, ‘I never said you didn’t have money. You’re still ugly. Sorry.’ ”