Nets’ Hollis-Jefferson to make return against Bulls

NEW YORK — A month ago, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson strained his right groin during a blowout loss in Milwaukee against the Bucks, and since then the Brooklyn Nets have been in a significant tailspin.

The Nets will get good news Monday when Hollis-Jefferson is expected to return from missing 12 games against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center.

Like most players coming back from injury, Hollis-Jefferson’s return will be gradual, meaning he won’t start and his minutes will be managed but considering what the Nets have looked like without him, they’ll take any contribution from him.

“Being whole is key,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters after practice Saturday. “That’s what’s going to get us moving back in the right direction.”

The Nets are 1-10 since Hollis-Jefferson was initially injured in the second quarter of a 116-91 loss to the Bucks on Jan. 26. Since then, seven losses are by double-digits and the Nets are allowing 111.5 points without the third-year forward, who is regarded as among the team’s better defensive players.

Besides Hollis-Jefferson, who averages 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds, Brooklyn is expected to get Caris LeVert back from a knee injury. LeVert has missed the last five games since initially getting hurt Feb. 6 against the Houston Rockets when he took a hard screen from Nene.

LeVert is the backup point guard and is averaging 11.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds in 50 games.

“They’re our energy guys,” Atkinson told reporters. “We obviously have been really struggling rebounding the ball. Rondae is one of our best rebounders, and Caris rebounds at a high level, too. … We put Rondae on usually the best big player. We’ve put him on guards. He plugs a lot of holes, so it will be great for our defense getting him back.”

Without Hollis-Jefferson this season, the Nets are 2-12 and without LeVert this season, Brooklyn is 2-8.

“It’s been tough to watch my guys struggle out there when I know the effort, the compete level could be better,” Hollis-Jefferson told reporters. “It’s just something about being out there and knowing you can contribute. It just sits in your stomach and you think about it all the time.”

Besides the returns of LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie will be the starting backcourt in a home game for the first time. They started together in Thursday’s 111-96 loss at the Charlotte Hornets when Russell scored 19 points and Dinwiddie finished with 12 and nine assists.

While the Nets are still trying to match their win total from last season, they are also attempting to hold off clinching their fourth straight losing season.

Chicago (20-39) is three losses away from clinching its first losing season since 2007-08. The Bulls rebounded from a 3-20 start by winning 17 of their next 24 games but since Jan. 15, they are 3-12 in their last 15.

Since Jan. 15, the Bulls are allowing 111.6 points on 47.4 percent shooting and in Saturday’s 122-104 loss at the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters. “They’re still active in practice. The big thing for us is getting a look at some of the younger guys who haven’t got a lot of minutes to this point.”

Lopez and Holiday may sit again Monday as the Bulls try out new lineup combinations.

In the last two games, Chicago started Cristiano Felicio in place of Lopez at center and moved David Nwaba into the starting frontcourt alongside rookie Lauri Markkanen. On Saturday the Bulls allowed more than 120 points for the fourth time in this slide after getting outscored 62-42 in the second half

“Obviously, we’re playing a lot of new guys. And we’re having trouble getting organized at both ends,” Hoiberg told reporters. “We’re not communicating on the defensive end and it’s costing us. We’re not doing a good job rotating over on the baseline when we get beat.”

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 21 points and is averaging 22.3 points in his last seven games. Markkanen was held to three and is 2-for-16 from the field in his last two games and 2-for-24 from 3-point range in his last five.

Bobby Portis added 15 points after getting 38 in Thursday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers and is averaging 22.5 points in his last four games.

Monday is the first meeting between of the season between the teams. Chicago won three of four meetings last season and is making its first appearance in Brooklyn since a 107-106 loss on April 8.