Nets’ Nic Claxton set to return from injury amid career year

MINNEAPOLIS — Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves marked the seventh in a row that Nic Claxton missed. The Nets’ injured young center is hoping that streak ends when the team returns home.

“Physically I feel great. I’m a few steps out from playing, hoping to be back early next week,” Claxton said. “Probably at home, barring any setbacks. It’s not 100 percent, but that’s where I’m hoping to be back. I was hoping to be back on this trip, but I’ve just got to listen to my body.”

The Nets host the Lakers on Tuesday and Nuggets a day later. Brooklyn is fully expecting Claxton to suit up in one or both before it hits the road again.

Claxton was enjoying the best extended stretch of his career when he left the Jan. 10 game in Portland with a tight left hamstring, and has missed the next seven.

“Yeah, it kind of flared up, with my ramp-up, my minutes. It’s something I dealt with my rookie year as well, so it’s nothing major,” Claxton said. “But I want to take my time and be thorough with it, not rush back, so when I come back I won’t have to continue to deal with it.

Nic Claxton will miss his 7th straight game on Sunday.

“It’s a hamstring injury. You want to take your time with hamstring injuries, so I don’t want to rush back and then have this thing linger. So I just want to take my time, get myself to where I need to be. … Just continue to let my body just do what it needs to do to feel 100 percent ready to be back out there, hooping.”

Claxton had been hooping better than he had at any point of his young career, and went down at the most inopportune time.

“Definitely frustrating,” Claxton said. “But it’s just a part of the game, part of the journey. So I can’t be get too down on myself. I’ve just got to try to have positive thoughts. And it’s nothing that … I’ve been through worse than this with injuries. So I’ll be back and I’ll be able to get into a groove with things pretty fast.”

In his last 11 games since Dec. 27, Claxton averaged 12.5 points on 69.3 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 26.1 minutes.

And not only had Claxton shown the ability to switch 1 through 5 defensively that makes him so rare, but posted his four highest scoring totals of the season and even flashed the playmaking and facilitating that opposing scouts have noted.

“He was great. Defensively, Nic is just an enigma; he just can guard everybody,” Blake Griffin said. “Even if a guy is stronger, he uses his length. Shorter guys, he uses his length as well but also his quickness; people underestimate that.

“Offensively, he was playing very pointed basketball where he knew what he was supposed to do. It was one or two decisions, and he was making the right decision and getting it done.”

Nic Claxton was have a career year when he injured his hamstring.
Nic Claxton was have a career year when he injured his hamstring.
Corey Sipkin/NY POST

Claxton’s said he’s proud of rookie Day’Ron Sharpe’s emergence during his absence, and adds he’s learned tricks of the trade from LaMarcus Aldridge, 36.

“[I’ve] made great progress. My confidence is growing, me settling into my role with the team,” Claxton said. “So I’m looking forward to getting back out there and doing what I do.”

Steve Nash has been playing Sharpe and Aldridge, and getting Griffin minutes when he can. Soon, that mix will add Claxton, in the midst of his best season.

“It’d be rare to play more than three, very situational,” Nash said. “That’s part of it: Guys have got to accept that we’re here for something bigger than ourselves and that some nights you play, some nights you don’t. Some nights you play a lot, some nights you play a lot less.

“[There’s] just got to be an acceptance that that role is fluid, and that we have a committee of guys. The more that those guys can band together and serve the team by committee, the better our team will be, the better our team spirit will be and recently they’ve been great at that.”

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