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Theo Pinson adds offensive punch to Nets' second unit

Nets guard Theo Pinson brings the ball upcourt

Nets guard Theo Pinson brings the ball upcourt against the 76ers at Barclays Center on Dec. 15. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

MINNEAPOLIS — For much of the time the Nets have been without injured Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, the burden for offensive production has fallen squarely on the shoulders of point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and the rest of the starting unit. While the second unit generally has held the fort on defense, the Nets’ reserves have struggled to score and have been deficient in terms of ballhandling.

But that all changed for Saturday night in Houston. The reserves appeared hopelessly overmatched against the Rockets, James Harden and Russell Westbrook when they took the floor late in the third quarter trailing by 16 points. But they produced an 18-1 run to forge a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Theo Pinson led the way with seven of his 11 points in that stretch, and after the Rockets went ahead again, another Pinson basket gave the Nets their final lead at 92-91 with 7:02 left to play.

Then, the starters returned and got outscored 17-6 the rest of the way in a 108-98 loss. Dinwiddie blamed himself for having a poor shooting game and committing five turnovers, but he was heartened by the play of the second unit and especially happy for Pinson.

“For all the guys, we’ve seen them play well in camp and in practice, so, it’s definitely no surprise,” Dinwiddie said, ticking off the names of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, DeAndre Jordan and Rodions Kurucs. “I would say I’m most happy for Theo because he’s had his struggles. To come in and, in a very short amount of time, even hit a three, do all sorts of things that have not necessarily been the most smooth, you’re extremely happy for him.

“You know what type of guy he is. He’s always dancing and cheering for everybody, and for him to get that type of moment to provide a spark, it’s great to see.”

Pinson has been in and out of the playing rotation because he has struggled on offense and has had a high number of turnovers because he’s basically a two-guard tasked with playing point guard. But he’s a willing defender, a great spirit on the bench, and his effort figured to earn more playing time against the Timberwolves Monday night at Target Center.

“It felt good,” Pinson said of his showing against the Rockets. “I just let the game come to me like my mom told me since I was little. It worked out for me.”

Pinson said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson encouraged him to trust all the work he has put in, and that support meant a lot.

“Even from last year, it’s just being ready,” Pinson said. “I didn’t play the whole first half. Then, I get my number called the second half and go out there and play like that and give us a little spark. It’s a good feeling for me and for my teammates, and it’s cool just having them support me through that whole stretch.”

Pinson spent last season on a two-way contract and excelled with the G League Long Island Nets, but with the big club he has gained more recognition for his enthusiastic cheerleading on the sidelines in support of his teammates. Now, that he has an NBA roster spot, he admitted there’s more pressure, especially since David Nwaba suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon that likely will create more playing time for Pinson.

“The coaching staff has constantly told to stay ready, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Pinson said. “I haven’t been going into the ‘extra-work’ group with my head down or anything like that. I’ve been embracing every moment that I have. Unfortunately, Dave got hurt, and at the same time, I’m just happy to be on the team and contribute.”

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