Yuta Watanabe’s inspiring run with the Brooklyn Nets this season is on life support.
The Japanese forward is the odd man out with the glut of wings in the wake of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s departures.
Newly-extended Nets coach Jacque Vaughn plans to stick with a 10-man rotation that clicked in their last game before the All-Star break.
“We’re playing 10 guys right now,” Vaughn said. “Eventually, that’s going to whittle down to nine or eight as you get into the playoffs, but I think that’s the biggest thing is being able to utilize the depth.”
The Nets went into the break with a two-game cushion over the New York Knicks for the fifth seed after a huge 116-105 victory over the current seventh-seed Miami Heat.
In that game, Vaughn rolled out a 10-man rotation that worked like a charm to book their first win since all players acquired from the Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving separate deals were on the floor.
Their trade deadline acquisitions — Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, and Dorian Finney-Smith — started for the second straight game with holdover Nic Claxton. Bridges led the starting unit with a career-high 45 points.
Cam Thomas came off the bench with 19 points and is expected to spearhead the Nets’ second unit.
Royce O’Neale, a starter when Durant and Irving were still in Brooklyn, was relegated to the bench. Veteran Joe Harris, the longest-tenured active player on the Nets roster, was also solid off the bench with nine points. The much-maligned Ben Simmons is slotted as Claxton’s backup, with Seth Curry rounding up the second group.
Vaughn said he is sticking with Curry as the backup point guard despite going scoreless with no other accompanying stat except for one turnover in nine minutes off the bench against the Heat. Curry couldn’t shake off the ill effects of the left adductor strain that sidelined him for five games. He was the lone player in the second unit who netted a negative in the plus-minus column with -4.
Watanabe joins Edmond Sumner, Patty Mills, and Day’Ron Sharpe at the end of the Nets bench.
The Japanese forward became a Brooklyn crowd darling with hustle plays and hot shooting. He started on a non-guaranteed deal but eventually worked his way to a standard contract with the finest season over his first five years in the league. He is averaging a career-best 6.5 points on 48.1 percent three-point shooting with 2.6 rebounds and nearly one assist across 18 minutes off the bench in 43 games this season.
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