The Brooklyn Nets have been one of the NBA’s best teams since Jan. 1, posting a 25-10 record in that span, but they’re not at full strength. Veteran big man Kevin Garnett has been out of action for Brooklyn’s past 10 games due to back spasms—dating back to March 1—and his return to the court remains a prominent question mark.
According to the New York Post’s Tim Bontemps, there’s still no definitive timetable for KG. He was expected to return on March 10 against the Toronto Raptors as part of the starting lineup, but his back tightened up shortly before tipoff, which further delayed his comeback.
“The most frustrating part about this is that you can’t just push through this,” Garnett told reporters, per Bontemps.
The 37-year-old added that he has a “whole new respect for the body” because his ailing back has impacted his legs, core and breathing, among other variables.
In 49 games played (all starts), he's averaged a career-low 6.7 points on 43.9 shooting, while notching only 6.7 rebounds per game, the worst mark since his rookie year. Despite the paltry overall shooting numbers, Garnett turned his fortunes around with the team by cashing in 57.8 percent of his attempts in January and 56.1 percent in February.
Despite the 15-time All-Star’s recent 10-game absence, the Nets continue to play at an extremely high level. They’ve compiled an 8-2 record over that span, which includes wins over the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat.
The biggest reason for their stellar play has been defense. The Nets are surrendering just 100.1 points per 100 possessions in March, per NBA.com. That’s the fourth-best defensive rating in the Association during that stretch.
“The Big Ticket” will sit out against the Boston Celtics on March 21 and could continue to miss games moving forward, per Bontemps: “Garnett’s status for the Nets’ upcoming three-game road trip is up in the air, with both he and (head coach Jason Kidd) saying that decision will come sometime over the next couple of days.”
His return certainly is not urgent, though, because the Nets have been playing like gangbusters in March without the veteran leader. Andray Blatche and rookie big man Mason Plumlee have filled in admirably under Coach Kidd.
At this point, Garnett's niche is that of a solid role player. He'll lead by example on the defensive end and knock down occasional shots on offense, but he's no longer the dominant player he was with Boston.
As long as KG comes back healthy for a potential postseason run, the Nets shouldn’t be worried. At 35-31 overall, Brooklyn holds the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference and would play the Bulls if the playoffs started now.
The former MVP should try to return during regular-season play to knock off the rust and get his legs underneath him, but he stressed that he’s “being smart” with his recovery process.
As one of the hottest teams in the league since the new year, Brooklyn will be a team to look out for come playoff time—especially if Garnett is healthy enough by that point to make a meaningful impact.
The Nets experienced a tumultuous start to the 2013-14 campaign, but they're playing well and developing team chemistry at precisely the right time.