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Stopping Nate Robinson is Nets' Game 5 problem

Reports of a calf injury that will keep Chicago Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich out of Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against Brooklyn on Monday night at Barclays Center fall in the “Be careful what you wish for” category for the Nets.

Less Hinrich likely means more Nate Robinson, and the Nets got their fill of him in their demoralizing triple-overtime Game 4 loss Saturday in Chicago.

Robinson scored 23 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and shot 9-for-11 in the period as the Bulls overcame a 14-point deficit in the final 4:35 of regulation. Hinrich was terrific, too, with 18 points and 14 assists, but after playing a game-high 60 minutes, he was in a walking boot at Monday’s shootaround and could miss the rest of the series.

“If Kirk doesn’t play, it’s a major factor because he’s one of their best players,” Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said after the morning shootaround. “Again, we’ve played them all year with other guys missing, and guys have stepped up. The one obvious guy that probably is going to get more minutes is the guy we certainly don’t want to see on the floor more minutes.”

Nate Robinson.

As New Yorkers are well aware from Robinson’s time with the Knicks, the 5-7 ball of energy can go haywire on offense in both a positive and negative way. When he gets as hot as he did against the Nets, Robinson is a nightmare matchup.

“We have to try and get the ball out of his hands,” Carlesimo said. “Some of them were pick-and-rolls, some of them were coming off screens, some of them were I-don’t-know-what – the bank shots and some of the things he did. That’s Nate. That’s what Nate can do. He, Jamal Crawford, J.R. [Smith] – there’s a couple guys in the league that can get in those kinds of zones and it gets very difficult.

“We clearly have to help our guys. If he does get going, we’ve got to make adjustments even if it means opening up some holes. The couple times we tried to double him, [Carlos] Boozer got a layup and nobody was on Joakim [Noah] and he walked in and got an offensive rebound. If he gets going anything like he got going in the fourth quarter, then, we have to try and make somebody else score…There really aren’t a lot of guys who can come in and distort a game like that.”

Carlesimo said Robinson did a good job of running his defender into screens, and he was open when the Nets’ big men failed to get out to the perimeter to help quickly. When Robinson draws a double-team, that leaves Bulls big men Boozer and Noah open for passes or free to go to the offensive glass, but it’s a chance the Nets have to take. The coach said Robinson really only became a problem when the Nets went cold at the end of the fourth quarter.

Nets point guard Deron Williams said the loss of Hinrich could have a major impact on the Bulls because he’s played so well on offense when the Nets have focused on shutting down the paint. Left unsaid was that Hinrich has been the defensive presence who has made it rough for Williams to get to the basket with his usual ease.

At the same time, Williams, too, worried about what Robinson might do with more playing time. “Nate definitely put the team on his back [Saturday],” Williams said. “He got hot. We’d like to think we could double him if he gets going like that again. Get the ball out of his hands. Give him different looks.”

Asked if there’s anything the Nets can do to encourage the bad Nate to come out and start firing willy nilly from long range as he sometimes is wont to do, Carlesimo smiled and noted that, as Portland’s former coach, he has been “neighbors” for several years with the Seattle native.

“I know him a long time,” Carlesimo said. “I’ll speak to him before the game, but he’s probably going to listen to ‘Thibs’ [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau] more than me.”

New York Sports