NEW YORK - Returning on Thursday evening after missing the last five games with a strained right quadriceps, Joe Johnson struggled for much of the first three quarters in a 92-90 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
He scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, all on 3-pointers, and played 35 minutes, but it was evident that there was something missing. With seven games to go in the regular season and the Nets looking good at the moment for the No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference, no one, including Johnson, seems all that concerned.
The main objective right now is making sure Johnson is healthy for the postseason, which begins April 20-21. If it takes him a game or two to get back in the swing of things, that is fine with all parties concerned.
"I felt pretty good, man," Johnson said after the Nets blew a 16-point, first half lead in their first game in Brooklyn since March 17. "My wind isn't where I would like for it to be, but I felt pretty good out there."
The six-time All-Star shooting guard looked hesitant at the start, taking only one field goal attempt in the first quarter and three in the first half. All told, he went 0-for-3 in the first half in 15 minutes of action.
He didn't hit his first shot until there was 7:42 to play in the third quarter, a 3-pointer from the right baseline.
"I was just trying to feel my way through," Johnson said. "I just wanted to get up and down the floor a little bit, see how I felt and I took a couple shots here and there. In the second half, I wanted to be a little more aggressive and go off the dribble and I was able to do it. For the most part, I was just trying to be out there helping the guys."
Another 3-pointer from the right baseline with 5:44 to play in the game pulled the Nets to within one at 78-77, while another trey from the right wing with 1:14 left gave them a momentary 88-86 lead.
That would be the extent of the scoring for Johnson, who has spent his first season in Brooklyn looking brilliant at times in late-game situations and maybe a little lost or invisible at other times.
His season averages in scoring, assists, rebounding, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage are all down compared to his career numbers. That matters little at this point in the season as Johnson is expected to help lead this franchise when the games matter most, late April and, if it's fortunate enough, early or even mid-May.
"The biggest thing is to get Joe back, get him minutes and kind of get him going," Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said pregame. "I’d probably say that’s the No. 1 priority. The No. 1 priority is for Joe to be healthy and playing minutes and us getting used to him being on the floor again and that being normal."
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA