CLEVELAND — As the Brooklyn Nets rolled to a 102-86 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, they welcomed the return of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Shabazz Napier. Both players had missed all four preseason games and the first three regular season games, and as they worked their way back, they watched several teammates be sidelined as well.
So the timing couldn’t have been better for Hollis-Jefferson, the longest-tenured Net and a returning starter, and Napier, a sparkplug guard signed as free agent over the summer.
On a night when the Nets limited the Cavs to 86 points, and 38.2 percent shooting, including 16.7 percent from 3-point range, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson lauded the defensive impact of the pair.
“We kind of felt like Shabazz is a guy that pressures the ball and gets after it a little bit,” said Atkinson. “He got that steal in the fullcourt, we haven’t seen that. He’s just got a certain confidence about him. You feel it out there. This guy’s played in big games. And then Rondae, for a guy that was out that long, pretty darn good defensively. Made a few mistakes offensively, but really helps our defense. We threw him out there at the point where we’re just switching everything. He can guard (Colin) Sexton or he can guard Kevin Love, and those guys are invaluable in today’s NBA.”
Hollis-Jefferson suffered and adductor strain over the summer, then missed the last two games after the birth of his son, Rylen. The fourth-year player made a big leap offensively last season, but defense has been his calling card since his NBA debut, and it’s what he’s using as a foundation as he gets going again. The Nets’ leading rebounder last season, he grabbed eight boards against the Cavs to go with eight points in 21 minutes.
“My energy level was good,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Defensively, making the simple plays. Just being smart and conscious. Your rhythm offensively may not be there. You may miss some shots. But just keep playing, keep rebounding, keep playing defense.”
Napier was making his Nets debut in his fifth NBA season. He scored eight points and knocked down two 3-pointers.
“It was exciting,” said Napier. “Just to be out there again. When you’re away from the game, you miss it a lot. Especially for myself, I love the competitiveness. I was happy to be out there.”
Unlike Hollis-Jefferson, Napier has the challenge of getting adjusted to a new team, coaches and systems on the floor. Even with the time that a hamstring injury kept him off the court, he feels his acclimation has been smooth.
“The performance team has been doing a great job with me,” said Napier. “So days when I’m not able to do five on five, I’m able to do three on threes, one v. ones. They’re able to put me in circumstances to get my body going. So they’ve been doing a great job, and I’m happy to be with them.”