Life without LeVert difficult for Nets
Brooklyn looks lost minus top player in humbling loss to Heat
The Nets looked more like a team getting over an emotional hangover than one ready to compete in an NBA game Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
Playing its first game without injured starting shooting guard Caris LeVert, Brooklyn struggled on both ends of the floor en route to its third straight loss, an ugly 120-107 defeat to the visiting Miami Heat in front of 13,317 fans on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
Two nights earlier in Minnesota, the Nets (6-9) watched in horror as LeVert, their leading scorer and top player thus far this season, fell to the floor in agony with what originally appeared to be a season-ending leg injury.
Though they found out Tuesday that LeVert had suffered a right-foot dislocation and would be back in a few months, the Nets looked out of sorts from the start of Wednesday’s contest, falling behind 37-21 after one quarter and never seriously challenging thereafter.
“I think 37 points in the first quarter, that says it all,” ceded head coach Kenny Atkinson after his team matched its longest skid of the young season.
“Huge, huge quarter we gave up, got in a big hole, didn’t come with that defensive mindset that we need to,” he added. “I do think if we did that, you’re in the game, you have a shot, but we didn’t compete on the defensive end. We should have.”
Spencer Dinwiddie scored 18 points off the bench and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 14 points and nine rebounds for Brooklyn, which was also without the services of starting center Jarrett Allen for a second consecutive game due to an undisclosed illness.
Though they cut the Miami advantage to single digits on a pair of occasions in the second half, the Nets couldn’t find a way to slow down a Heat team that rode into Brooklyn with a three-game losing streak of its own.
“I think [missing LeVert] is definitely an issue, but that’s not an excuse for not playing good defense or making the 50/50 plays, the effort plays, the hustle plays,” noted Joe Harris, who finished with 11 points.
“Obviously we miss Caris a lot and I think that’s reflective in the way we played offensively tonight,” he added. “But the defense has got to stay constant and that’s where we lost our way.”
Coming off a 2-2 road trip that featured a scintillating win in Denver on LeVert’s last-second shot, the Nets will be looking for more consistent scoring from the likes of Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell and the thus-far underperforming Allen Crabbe to pick up the slack going forward.
But getting back and defending has long been a staple of Atkinson’s run-and-gun philosophy, which the Nets failed to heed throughout Wednesday’s humbling loss, resulting in an eye-popping 70 points in the paint for Miami.
“That was the breakdown,” admitted Russell, who managed only 12 points on 6-of-18 shooting, including an 0-for-3 effort from long range.
“It was no ‘where,’ it was everywhere. They got what they wanted, whenever they wanted. Transition, halfcourt, turnover, whatever it was, they got it.”
The Nets will try to rebound from their recent slump and the loss of their budding All-Star when visit the Washington Wizards on Friday night.
“It’s something that’s going to take a little bit of time to figure out what we’re going to do when it comes to that,” Russell said of LeVert’s absence in the lineup. “But as of right now, I don’t know, so I’m not really going to speak on it, what we can do or what it’s going to be. Just got to figure it out within the game.”
Nothing But Net: Atkinson and Nets general manager Sean Marks addressed the media regarding LeVert’s status prior to Wednesday’s game, but did not offer any type of timetable for his return to action, though the fact that he will be back at all this season is a positive following the gruesome fall. “If you take the two ends of the spectrum, him lying on the floor, probably in a state of shock … to learning that it’s not as bad as he thought or we thought, I can’t imagine putting myself in his shoes, I can’t imagine the two ends of the spectrum he went through,” Atkinson said. “He’s an optimistic kid. He really has an even keel about him. That helped him through the emotions and the injury.” Marks reflected on the difficulty of moving on without a player who was leading the team with 18.4 points per game and receiving early All-Star consideration. “It’s extremely frustrating for everybody,” said Marks. “I feel for that locker room. Those guys are in that bunker together. They’ve certainly bonded. People have commented on it, written about it, and their own comments. That’s a great credit to the players. As we’ve always said, we want this to be player driven, and those guys support each other. They hold each other accountable, they police each other, and it’s a great common bond those guys have got in there. I don’t think anything will take away from that. I think losing Caris for a while will be hard, but it will be a great opportunity for the rest of the guys in that locker room to seize this opportunity and bounce back.”
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