For the first time in two months, it’s finally gameday for D’Angelo Russell.
Initially listed as probable for Friday night’s game against the Miami Heat in Thursday’s injury report, Russell was declared available after the Brooklyn Nets had their morning shootaround at Barclays Center.
“I’ve been going through the rehab process every day,” said Russell. “Pushing it. Yesterday I would say I felt like I pushed it to where I could be out there on the court again.”
Brooklyn’s leading scorer with 20.9 points per game over the first 13 games of the season, Russell returns to a team that has been struggling for offense in losing six of its last seven games. At the same time, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert have been bright spots over the last two months in handling the point guard duties with Russell and Jeremy Lin sidelined.
Over the Nets’ last 32 games, Dinwiddie has averaged 14.4 points and 7.2 assists and been one of the NBA’s most efficient playmakers with few turnovers. LeVert has averaged 13.2 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.
“I would envision I’ll probably fit into the Jeremy Lin, Caris role early in the season, the way they were playing together,” said Dinwiddie. “We haven’t had much time together, so it’s going to be a little bit of a ‘we’ll see,’ but I think it’s going to be exciting as well.”
Russell isn’t worried about where he fits in or what his minutes will look like. He’s trusting the coaches and the performance staff to figure that out. Veteran DeMarre Carroll, who underwent a similar experience two years ago with in-season knee surgery, has encouraged him in that direction.
“Ease your way back in,” said Carroll. “A lot of people are going to come and try and put pressure on you, but at the end of the day, ease your way back in. Spencer’s been playing great, so he can kind of ease his way back in and get to the level he was playing at slowly. He doesn’t have to just come right in and everybody thinks he’s going to score 30 or 40 for us. He could ease his way back in and do it on his own time.”
It’s been a new experience, and a learning one, for Russell. He was with the team on the road, continuing his rehab from city to city.
“I’ve never worked so hard in my life, honestly,” said Russell. “Every arena I had a different schedule every road game. Waking up early. Running outside. Whatever it may be, it was just a tough process, something that was new to me. Getting through that is definitely a look in the mirror for me.”
The young guard drew an excited embrace from Carroll when speaking with the media after shootaround. The Nets are thrilled to see him back on the court.
“Anybody of his caliber that comes back, it’s bound to make your team a better team, a better unit,” said Dinwiddie. “We’re just excited to have him.”