Nets' Joe Johnson starts in return

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson started on Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks after a three-game absence due to a sore left heel.

"Yeah, I'm gonna give it a go tonight," Johnson told reporters following Friday's morning shootaround.

Johnson had not played since Feb. 20 against the Milwaukee Bucks, when he shot just 3-for-14 from the field. The 31-year-old veteran initially felt soreness in his heel during the two games before the All-Star break. But he says he feels a lot better now.

"It's just a little soreness, but today's probably the best it's felt in quite some time," Johnson replied when asked whether he felt 100 percent. "I was able to move with no problems. I just keep icing it and getting treatment, and hopefully it'll get better."

Johnson doesn't expect the injury to linger into the playoffs. He says he could give the Nets 40 minutes on Friday night if he had to.

Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo called Johnson's impending return to the lineup "significant" because he's one of the team's best players.

"I feel good [about him playing], but again, really the other day at this time we thought he was gonna play, too, so I'm interested to see how he feels before the game," Carlesimo said.

The Nets went 1-2 without Johnson in their lineup. In 55 games for the Nets (34-24), he is averaging 17 points on 42.3 percent shooting in 38 minutes.

Johnson is the team's go-to guy down the stretch. In the last 24 seconds of games with the score within three points, he's 7-for-8 from the field.

C.J. Watson had been starting in Johnson's place but returned to his regular backup point guard role behind Deron Williams.

Reserve MarShon Brooks (sprained right wrist) played after being a game-time decision. Jerry Stackhouse (personal reasons) remained out.

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.