The roar of the crowd was thunderous as Russell entered for the game for the first time with 4:28 remaining in the opening stanza.
As expected, Russell was rusty, and on a minutes limit. Therefore, expectations were lowered before the game even began, as Russell was listed as “probable,” which in the NBA normally translates to “he’ll play, just not that much.”
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson also said that the team would build Russell up and ease him into more minutes as time goes.
Considering that Russell has played two games since his return at 14 minutes each, scoring only four points on 1-of-10 shooting with three assists, patience and tempered expectations seems to be ideal.
“Russell was obviously rusty, which is normal,” Atkinson said. “You could see he got in rhythm. He got to the rim and missed a layup but it was a good drive. He’s got a feel as a quarterback, as a point guard of getting guys shots.”
For the Nets, it’s good to have Russell back, but it’s even better to end the week with back-to-back victories after losing to the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks earlier in the week.
Though Russell hasn’t been a huge impact player yet, the Nets managed to defeat the Heat, 101-95, and follow it up with a 101-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, after a game-winning jumper from rising star Spencer Dinwiddie, who was drafted by those same Pistons in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-6 guard was a nondescript back-up with Detroit, who even spent time in the former NBA D League from 2014-2016 before being traded to the Chicago Bulls, where he was subsequently waived in October 2016. The Nets signed him that December.
Dinwiddie had 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and drained 4-of-6 from three-point range to accompany five assists and four rebounds against his former NBA team of two seasons.
“You know, a win is a good win,” Dinwiddie said, fighting laughter, when asked how the victory felt, seeming to knowingly avoid mentioning the desired storyline behind the money shot. “For our young team, anytime you can grind out a win, especially when they come back, we still learned how to close it out and get just enough stops, just enough buckets. It’s big time.”
The Nets, who are 18-29 after beating Detroit, are now six games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference despite serious injuries to key players, including Jeremy Lin, who is out for the season.
The Nets are also three games behind the New York Knicks, who they’ll face on January 30 at Madison Square Garden for the final time this season.