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Nets rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson punctuates return with vicious slam

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Hollis-Jefferson throws down dunk (0:16)

Brooklyn Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dunks it in after a give-and-go setup from Brook Lopez. (0:16)

NEW YORK -- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson took flight from just inside the foul line, while Frank Kaminsky stayed grounded.

Clearly, "Frank the Tank" wanted no part of being posterized by RHJ.

Hollis-Jefferson's vicious, left-handed dunk off a nice give-and-go passing combination with good friend Brook Lopez late in the fourth quarter served as the perfect punctuation mark on an impressive return.

"It was nice," Lopez said of the slam. "I try to do that, but I just can't compete with him."

"It was really aggressive," Hollis-Jefferson said. "I hadn't dunked in a game in a while. I felt the connection and the vibe. I knew Brook was about to pass it, and I was like, ‘I'm going up with this one. There's no stopping me. Whether I miss it or not, I'm still going up.'"

After missing the past 50 games because of an ankle injury, the 21-year-old rookie came back strong Tuesday night and galvanized the Brooklyn Nets with his tenacious play. The box score might have read only five points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 15 minutes, but Hollis-Jefferson's impact in his team's 105-100 loss to the Charlotte Hornets was far greater than his pedestrian numbers would indicate.

"That's his personality," Nets interim coach Tony Brown said. "He's a bubbly young man, and he displays that when he plays. His energy level is something that we've missed since he's been out. I wish I could've played him more. It's unfortunate."

Before getting hurt in practice Dec. 5, Hollis-Jefferson was becoming more and more acclimated to life in the NBA. Brooklyn began to play better after he moved into the starting lineup, and he ranked first among all shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus at the time of the injury.

The Nets might not have been a playoff team had RHJ stayed healthy, but they would've been much more competitive. Heading into Tuesday night's game, the Nets ranked last in defensive efficiency since Jan. 10, when Brown was named interim coach, and have surrendered a whopping 111 points per 100 possessions.

As such, immediately after checking in midway through the second quarter, Hollis-Jefferson forced Jeremy Lin into shooting an air ball. Shortly thereafter, he drained a midrange jumper, with his shot looking much more fluid as a result of work with Brooklyn's shooting coach, David Nurse.

To think RHJ had acknowledged just the day before that he might be out for the rest of the season.

"It felt good just to be out there talking, playing defense and helping my team offensively," Hollis-Jefferson said. "It just felt good to be a teammate on the floor, instead of in a blazer on the sideline."

In recent weeks, Hollis-Jefferson had become frustrated as questions about his return piled up. He was supposed to come back in eight-to-ten weeks. That ended up being nearly 15.

Hollis-Jefferson was informed by trainer Tim Walsh after practice Monday that he had been medically cleared following a meeting among team brass. Their conversation went something like this:

"You can play tomorrow," Walsh said.

"Oh. OK. Thank you!" RHJ replied.

Hollis-Jefferson is currently on a restriction of about 14-to-16 minutes. Hopefully, those minutes continue to increase because when the 6-foot-7, 220-pound spark plug is on the court, good things tend to happen.

"I'm thrilled to see him back out there, and it was very satisfying to see him play like that after he worked so hard to get back," Lopez said.

The friendship between Hollis-Jefferson and Lopez grew quickly.

"He was just eager to learn the ins and outs of the league, and he talked to myself and [former Net] Joe [Johnson] a lot to try to figure things out, and I grew kind of fond of him from there, I guess," Lopez said.

Hollis-Jefferson is far and away the more vocal of the two.

"It's like the Paula Abdul song, right? 'Opposites Attract,'" said Lopez, who finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

The two hang out frequently on the road and pass time between games at the movie theater.

"We saw 'Creed,' 'Ride Along 2,'" Lopez said. "I never thought I'd see 'Ride Along 2,' but he brought me to it in Toronto."

The Nets (19-51) are finishing a dreadful season. New GM Sean Marks has his work cut out for him. Sean Kilpatrick (career high of 25 points on Tuesday) has been a nice find, but to get back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, guard help -- specifically, point guard help -- is desperately needed. The same can be said of defense in general.

"I like the spirit of Sean Kilpatrick. I love the spirit of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. And they play their butts off when they're out there," Brown said. "Unfortunately, we don't have enough guys pulling the rope in that direction. It's frustrating because they can do better, but I'm at a point in the season where I'm going to play the guys who are going to play more spirited basketball."

RHJ is back and has the potential to turn into a solid foundation player for Brooklyn.

Hey, at least it's something.