CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The pain of another tough loss was evident in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s eyes Tuesday night in Oakland after the Nets fought the NBA champion Warriors through 13 third-quarter lead changes before losing for the 16th time in their past 18 games. Hollis-Jefferson, who returned from injury five games ago, was hoping to spark a turnaround, but it hasn’t happened.
Asked if the losing is taking a mental toll, Hollis-Jefferson said, ‘Yeah, it is. We’ve been in a lot of tight battles. It would feel good to be on the other side.”
The 6-7 power forward started all season until suffering a groin strain in early February. He’s 100 percent healthy now, but coach Kenny Atkinson has used him off the bench, in part, because he can keep his three best perimeter players — D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Allen Crabbe together while shifting DeMarre Carroll to the four spot next to center Jarrett Allen.
As the Nets’ heart-and-soul player, Hollis-Jefferson is cool with that. “I’m a team player, man,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Whatever it takes.”
Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, who missed five games with a sprained knee, came back at the same time, and they clearly have made a huge impact with the second unit. Atkinson is using those two along with Joe Harris, Dante Cunningham and one of the starting perimeter players to good effect lately.
Following a last-minute loss to the Clippers Sunday night in Los Angeles when the four bench players combined for 75 of the Nets’ 120 points, Atkinson said, “They’ve got to be our energy group — Caris and Joe and now Dante is in that mix. They’re fast. They can all switch [on defense]. It’s that versatile, high-energy group we had going on during our good stretch.”
The bench was a huge part of the Nets’ surprising early-season success, and since LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson have returned, the bench shows signs of boosting the Nets again. That’s why the notion of bringing Hollis-Jefferson off the bench appeals to Atkinson.
“Yeah, I’ve thought that,” Atkinson said. “Obviously, I like it where it is. My first thought was to get Rondae into the starting lineup, but we’ll see how that evolves.”
Hollis-Jefferson and LeVert played well against the Warriors. But Hollis-Jefferson faulted himself for a defensive mistake near the end of the third quarter when the Warriors’ Steph Curry scored nine straight points to create separation, including a pair of three-pointers.
“A couple times, I missed the coverage,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I didn’t know what I was in. Caris talked to me after Curry made the second [three-pointer]. He was like, ‘C’mon, you’ve got to be higher. You’ve got to talk to me.’ So, I’ll take the blame on that. But I feel like we competed.”
The Nets (20-45) reach the end of their 11-day road trip Thursday night in Charlotte, and Hollis-Jefferson believes he and LeVert can produce another strong effort.
“We’re doing so many different things, bringing defense, bringing energy, Caris being a phenomenal passer and playmaker and me being a great screen-and-roller,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I feel like we bring those intangibles.”
The Nets can use all the intangibles they can get right now.