Josh Newman, SNYNets.comIn staying with a conservative approach regarding Brook Lopez and his ligament sprain to the mid-foot, Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson and his training staff aren't quite ready to give the 7-foot center the green light to return to action.
On a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, Johnson ruled Lopez out of Friday's home matchup with the Golden State Warriors, his fourth straight missed contest since injuring himself at the Boston Celtics on Nov. 28.
Lopez will be out, but he appears to be getting closer to a return. Johnson said he went through a light individual workout on Thursday morning that consisted of running straight ahead and lots of shooting, but no lateral movement or contact.
The plan is to see how he recovers before determining if he can go through part or all of shootaround Friday morning. As is typically the case with injured players under Johnson, he wants Lopez to go through a full practice before returning. The Nets will practice Saturday, which means theoretically, Lopez could return Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center.
"Brook is feeling better," Johnson said. "We had a light individual workout with him today, but he's got to be able to get through a full contact practice."
A history of foot problems dating back to last season guarantees that the Nets will not rush Lopez, who re-signed in the offseason for four years and nearly $61 million, back to the floor. He will get all the time he needs, but at the same time, Johnson noted they will go overboard with Lopez. If he gets through a full-contact practice and is deemed to fit to play as early as Sunday, he will.
"He just needs time to heal," Johnson said. "We’ll be conservative because of the history, but we wont be super-conservative where he sits two, three, four, five games more than he should. You don’t want to put him out there too soon and he compensates for another area."
With Lopez out, Blatche steps up
The Nets' second unit may miss Andray Blatche and his contributions off the bench, but the 6-foot-11 power forward has been huge as a starter the last three games in Lopez's absence.
In games at the Orlando Magic, at the Miami Heat and versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, Blatche has averaged 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 51 percent in place of Lopez
For the season, he is averaging 10.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in just 19.3 minutes per game.
"In his mind, he still thinks he's a starter," Johnson said of Blatche, who started 176 of 409 career games entering this season. "Our program, he sees the benefits of it. Even today, he came in with a great attitude, got his work done, and I think he likes the system, he wants to be in the system, wants to be held accountable and that’s what's causing him to really thrive. He's real confident right now and he's got something to prove, that’s hes a good teammate and someone a coach can count on.
With numbers like he has put up this season, the Nets appear to have gotten a bargain from Blatche, who was signed to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract in September after being released by the Washington Wizards via the amnesty clause in July.
Evans to possibly return Friday
After missing Tuesday's loss to the Thunder with the flu, reserve power forward Reggie Evans, the league leader in rebounds per 48 minutes at 20.7, may return on Friday according to Johnson.
"He is feeling much better and we’re hoping that he will continue to get stronger and stronger," Johnson said. "I will check on him again this afternoon and we’re very hopeful he’ll be available tomorrow."
Even without Evans, the Nets still owned 40-33 rebounding margin over the Thunder, including 16-2 on the offensive glass. However, Evans serves as something of an enforcer when he is in the game, something no one else in the rotation can duplicate when Evans isn't there.