Nic Claxton returned to action Sunday against Washington for the first time since he suffered a sprained left ankle in the season-opening loss to the Cavaliers.
And not a moment too soon, as he had 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, adding 13 rebounds and four blocks in the Nets’ 102-94 win over Washington at Barclays Center.
Claxton missed eight games with the injury, as the Nets have battled health issues throughout the young season.
Claxton played nearly 28 minutes in his return and said he was “pretty much in rhythm from the start. I didn’t want to overthink it.”
“It’s been a little while since he’s played,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said before the game. “So just get him familiar with the plan again, the contact, the physicality, the conditioning piece of it.”
It didn’t take long for Claxton to return to form.
“We talked about the impact Nic had on the defensive end of the floor and the plays he made at the end of the game,’’ Vaughn said of Claxton’s solid all-around play. “He deters at the rim and his ability to switch [on defense]. We missed that.”
And as Vaughn also noted, Claxton still isn’t 100 percent healthy.
Claxton joined Cam Johnson, who returned from his seven-game absence Friday in Boston, but Ben Simmons missed his third straight game Sunday with what the team called a left hip contusion and high-scoring Cam Thomas remained out with a sprained ankle that will sideline him for weeks.
The presence of Claxton, according to Vaughn, gives the Nets a player who can attack the rim on offense and impact the game on the other end, as well.
“I think our defense has struggled because of Nic’s not being there for us,’’ Vaughn said. “His ability to guard multiple positions, change defenses, to be in drop coverage, to be in man-to-man coverage, to protect the rim, to be a force that when a small turns the corner, at least he sees a bigger dude at the rim instead of seeing [Dorian Finney-Smith] or Royce [O’Neale], dudes who have taken that position and tried to do the best job.”
Simmons, Vaughn added, remained day-to-day with the hip injury, as Simmons continues to get treatment.
He’s played in six games this season and leads the Nets with 10.8 rebounds per game and 6.7 assists per game.
Lonnie Walker IV left the game with a left knee injury after landing awkwardly in the first half, but returned after halftime and hit a key 3-pointer in the third quarter.
He said he aggravated an injury he initially suffered in the second game of the season.
“I’ll be ready for the next game,’’ said Walker, who scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. “If my leg’s not broken, I’m gonna keep playing. We’ll see how it goes [Monday]. … It’s a lot of pain. I’ve been playing through it.”
Vaughn said he was encouraged by what he saw from Dariq Whitehead in his debut with the Nets’ G-League team after dealing with a foot injury since training camp.
“Just seeing where he’s at defensively,’’ Vaughn said of the team’s first-round pick (22nd overall) in this year’s draft. “I love seeing him be able to get back on the floor [and] play five-on-five.”
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