MEMPHIS — The timing couldn't be better for the Brooklyn Nets to be adding Treveon Graham back into the mix.
The 6-foot-5 swingman missed the last 37 games after injuring his hamstring in the home opener against the Knicks on Oct. 19. With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out with an adductor strain, Graham can bring some physicality with the Nets looking for a defensive impact in Hollis-Jefferson's absence.
Graham played 25 minutes for the G League Long Island Nets on Wednesday, scoring 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting with eight rebounds.
"Excellent report," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson after practice on Thursday of the news from Graham's appearance on Wednesday. "I'd expect him, he's obviously going to play tomorrow, and he'll play minutes too. We're going to find them. I think, going back to our defense, not having Rondae, we need his toughness, activity, defensive presence. I think that'll help our defense."
Graham is in his third NBA season after a season in the G League and spent the last two seasons with Charlotte. He's taken a step forward each year, and impressed Atkinson during the preseason with his play when injuries to Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll opened the door for some extra minutes.
He's looking forward to another opportunity after a long wait.
"Had good communication between me and the performance staff," said Graham. "Understood it's going to take a while. It's something that happened before in my career, and it's something I don't want to happen again. We were cautious in not just throwing me back into the game. We found a happy medium to where I felt comfortable and they felt comfortable for me to come back."
ANOTHER "CLUTCH" WIN
Brooklyn's 126-121 win over New Orleans on Wednesday fit into the NBA's definition of a "clutch" game, but just barely. The NBA defines such a game as one with a five-point margin in the final five minutes, and Wednesday's game was the Nets' NBA-leading 25th such game. But the five-point margin that New Orleans touched a few times in the final minute was as close as the Pelicans got in creeping back from a 24-point hole.
Then again, the Nets had a seven-point lead in the final minute in New Orleans back in October and lost that game. Frustrating finishes continued to be a problem into December, but it seems to be something the Nets have put behind them as a consistent issue as they've won seven of their last nine such games while winning 10 of their last 13 overall.
When the Pelicans first closed within five points with just under a minute to go, it was Joe Harris who answered with a drive to the rim to put Brooklyn back up seven with 35 seconds remaining.
Spencer Dinwiddie and DeMarre Carroll followed with free throws to help close out New Orleans.
"I don't think anybody was necessarily thinking back directly to that game with that unfortunate ending and how we finished that game in particular," said Harris. "More so than anything I just felt more confidence that we were going to win. There wasn't any doubt. That's sort of the hump that we've overcome from that point in the season until now, the fact that we just never really wavered. We were just pretty confident that we were going to win the entire time."
Nobody in the Nets' locker room wanted to make too big a deal about the fact the team moved into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings after Wednesday's win, and it was just as well. When the Pistons closed out their win shortly after, it left the Nets in ninth, a half-game back.
But after winning just 20 games two years ago, the Nets have 18 wins already in 2018-19 with the midpoint of the 82-game schedule coming up on Sunday. That's tied for the sixth-most in the conference, and the Nets are just 1.5 games behind sixth-place Miami.
They have a .462 winning percentage, which leaves them on pace to match the 38 wins of Brooklyn's last playoff team in 2015.
"I don't want to get carried away, but I like our trajectory and I'm very pleased," said Kenny Atkinson after Wednesday's win. "We had a bunch of guys out and we're still able to pull out some games. Losing Caris and Allen Crabbe and Rondae and I just think, like I said before the game, we're a deeper squad and we're a better squad. We have a tough road ahead here, especially shorthanded. If we can weather this storm I think until we're fully healthy, maybe we can do something important."
ABOUT THE GRIZZLIES
The Grizzlies have lost 10 of their last 13 games with Wednesday's 101-94 loss to Detroit. During that stretch, they're 28th in the NBA in offensive rating (103.4) while playing the league's slowest pace (93.88). They are 12th in defensive rating (108.3) however during the same span. Memphis won a wild 131-125 double overtime game in Brooklyn in which the Nets led by seven points in the final minute. Mike Conley averages 19.9 points and 6.3 assists and Marc Gasol averages 16.0 points and 4.0 assists. Rookie Jaren Jackson, the fourth overall pick last June, averages 13.3 points and is shooting 51.7 percent overall.