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Brooklyn Nets Guard Kyrie Irving Takes Floor in Practice

All-NBA guard participates in first full practice with team since shoulder injury

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has moved closer to a return after nearly two months out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, participating in his first full practice with the team on Thursday at HSS Training Center.

“Today was a good practice,” said Irving. “We finally had a practice today, so we got a chance to go up and down, some five-on-five, which felt pretty good. We just see where we end up in the next few days. We will, realistically, reevaluate tomorrow, see how I feel tomorrow. Then go Saturday, probably another practice, probably more four-on-four, five-on-five. I try to get as many coaches and players as I can, we’re down a few guys. Guys are playing 38 minutes, 37 minutes, so I try to respect their bodies as well. We’ve got a few guys in here running four-on-four, I’ve been doing that for the last three or four days. So it’s felt pretty good.”

Irving last played in Denver on Nov. 14 and has been listed as out due to a shoulder impingement for each Nets game since. He met with the media for the first time since his injury last Saturday and said he had received a cortisone shot on Dec. 24.

“There’s a lot of different muscles, so when you have that impingement your muscles that usually help your shoulder move or glide correctly, they start shutting down,” said Irving. “So I started losing a lot of weight, I started losing a lot of strength and then after that time, you’ve got to build it back up. It’s quicker to lose it than to gain it. In those two weeks after the Denver game, I lost a lot of strength, just because I was resting and trying to get back on the court. I started doing exercises a little bit too soon, that was a setback. So there were things that happened in the last month and a half that really put me in this position. But after the cortisone, it gave me a great stepping stone to continue to progress and work my way back on the floor.”

On Thursday, Irving said he had been gradually increasing his workouts over the last week-and-a-half, beginning with two-on-two sessions and climbing the ladder before graduating to full five-on-five work at Thursday’s practice. He worked with both Brooklyn’s starting and second units, according to head coach Kenny Atkinson, and Irving said he has no limitations on his workouts, beyond a shoulder-maintenance routine that he expects will be part of his program for the long term.

“It’s monotony, its monotonous bro. Honestly, it’s part of rehab so you got to take that and push yourself,” said Irving. “You know how that goes, just try to get your body to knock the rust off. It’s my shooting shoulder, so me going right primarily on my drives, I’ve got to mix it up a little bit and just work on my floaters, work on my touch around the rim, but that will come over time. Hopefully, I get some game reps, in addition to this practice, but probably in the next week or so, it could be less than that but I’m going to give myself a week, and just see where we go from there with another evaluation.”

The prospect of Irving’s potential return comes as the Nets are dealing with a seven-game losing streak following Tuesday night’s loss to Oklahoma City. Getting him on the court was a welcome development for the Nets.

“Just his presence. Forget the basketball part, it's his personality,” said Atkinson. “We needed a boost. It was great timing. I think we needed a boost of morale, and he definitely has that type of personality that lights up a room. And he can light up a court, too, so that helps. But it was good timing."

A two-time All-NBA guard, Irving made his Brooklyn debut with 50 points against Minnesota on Oct. 23, and hit a game-winner against the Knicks in Barclays Center two nights later. Over Brooklyn’s first 11 games, he averaged 28.5 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. At that point, the Nets had the 10th-ranked offensive rating in the league (108.5). Since Nov. 16, a stretch in which the Nets were also without Caris LeVert until last Saturday, Brooklyn’s offense has ranked 28th (103.8).

In Irving’s absence, Spencer Dinwiddie has moved into the starting lineup and averaged 24.8 points per game, 14th in the NBA since Nov. 16, plus 6.9 assists, 13th in the league.

“He’s been doing a great job,” said Irving. “We’ve got to give him a lot of credit, but we’ve got to give him some help offensively and put him in some spots that can make him successful and get him off the ball. Then, when I’m back and Caris is back, then we just figure out the offense and how to get our three-guard front to work really well. And then, pick our minutes together and when we’re apart. But the guys have done a great job. We’re doing the best we can.

“We’re going to make some tweaks offensively, but defensively, we’ve been pretty good. We’ve been in games, we’ve come down to the fourth quarter. It’s a quarter here, a few minutes there. It just comes down to making shots on the offensive end and getting down the stretch, when they start trapping, we’ve got to make good decisions. But those guys are learning extremely well. I give them a bunch of credit for what they’ve been able to do. Now, we’ve just got to keep growing from this point.”

There will be lineup decisions to be made once Irving returns. He and LeVert began the season as the starting backcourt, and Dinwiddie has excelled in a leading role in their absence.

"Obviously that'd be a tough tandem to match up with,” said Atkinson of the Irving/Dinwiddie combination. “And Spencer can obviously guard off the ball easy — he's 6-6 — so that's good, too. And Spencer's a two-way player. It's exciting to think what it could be. Kind of what Oklahoma City does: You could have Caris, Kyrie and Spencer. You know, that was kind of obviously in the original plans. We had it in our plans. Things just kind of went... Yeah, you could play them as a finishing lineup. I wouldn't hesitate to do that at all."

Despite his absence, Irving was in second place among Eastern Conference guards in All-Star Game fan voting totals that were released on Thursday. Irving has played in six of the last seven All-Star Games, and was the All-Star Game MVP in 2014.

“I mean, I said it the other day. It’s an entertainment league, and I think that I put in a lot of work in this league to be up there whether I’m playing or not,” said Irving. “And if you want to see an All-Star game, then, I would vote for myself as well. I’m serious. I’m going to go out there, we’re going to put on a show, but at the same time, there is a respect level that I have for all the guys that have been playing throughout the season. They’re as much deserving of being in that spot. The fans will do their job of voting for who they want to see in there, but when I’m back, please believe I’m going to make a push for something as well as bringing a teammate with me. I’m going to be pushing for him (Dinwiddie) to get in there as well. We’ll see what happens, but the first priority is getting healthy and get back with my teammates.”

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