MIAMI – In his 19th NBA season, Kevin Garnett knows two undeniable truths:
1. Despite the playful kidding from coaches and teammates that he is a “born-again rookie,” KG will never again carry a teammate’s bags, a right of passage for rookies that he endured in 1995-96 when Sam Mitchell made him his personal valet with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
2. And, after suffering from excruciating backs spasms for the first time in his career, KG will not do anything that might inflame the injury that caused him to miss 19 games.
"I'm going to follow my plan," Garnett said. "They have a plan for me and I'm going to follow it. So stay tuned, alright?"
Stayed tuned? With the way he played Saturday night in the Brooklyn Nets’ 105-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, you can’t turn away.
The 37-year-old scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, recorded one assist, one steal, one blocked shot, threw down one impressive two-handed dunk and gave Nets fans more than cause to believe their team could be a playoff force.
"If he can stay healthy and gives what he gave us tonight,’’ said coach Jason Kidd, “that's pretty impressive for a guy who I think has been out for a month."
Staying healthy is the mantra for KG and the Nets as they look to close out the season.
He seemed like the least tired player on the Nets when the team plane touched down in Miami early Sunday morning. The Nets play the Heat here Tuesday night, giving KG another chance to get primed for the playoffs.
He acknowledged having to shake off some cobwebs in the Sixers game. But nothing – not even the possibility of sweeping all four games against the Heat this season – will press KG into putting his back at risk.
"Obviously, I'm not where I want to be, but I felt good," Garnett said. "I felt strong. It's been a journey to get back to this point. I'm just trying to contribute at this point. Man, it just feels good to be able to move."
The plan for Garnett is not much different than it was at the start of the season. Kidd’s priority was get KG and fellow vet Paul Pierce to the playoffs healthy and rested.
Pierce and Joe Johnson did not play in the fourth quarter against Philly. Deron Williams got a rest in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons.
KG played 13 minutes and 12 seconds against Philly. His second-quarter dunk was not lost on Kidd.
"Man, that looked good," Kidd said. "He looked like he was 18-19 years old. He looked great.
“He was dunking the ball. His jump shot looked great, so he looked like he was playing at a very high level. He understands what this time of year means."
Yes, this is the time of year, the time Kidd has been planning for all season. He didn’t panic when the Nets were 10-21 and he didn’t flinch when the Sixers sliced their 21-point deficit to a single point with 1:05 left.
KG stayed on the bench, although he didn’t remain in his seat. He grabbed Alan Anderson’s arm several times as the Nets made key plays down the stretch.
Even though he said his body doesn’t feel the best (remove ‘it has this late in the season’) because of the long break, KG was acting like he had a lot of spring in his step and passion in his heart.
“I feel stronger than I have with this ailment and I'm just glad I was strong enough to be out there,’’ he said.
NOTES: Little League season opened in Brooklyn Saturday morning and more than 2,500 players, coaches and fans participated in the opening day festivities.
“We’re going to win it all,’’ said John DeBrosser, whose cousin is playing for the Giants. “Just like the Nets. They’re the hottest team in the NBA. If KG gets healthy, we can beat any team.’’
Mayor Bill de Blasio, joined by several other local elected officials, attended the festivities which began with a parade that stretched from Park Slope to Prospect Park.