No stunt in Nets’ growth sans LeVert
Brooklyn finding a way to stay relevant despite top scorer
Just over a week ago, the Brooklyn Nets looked like a team on the verge of succumbing to the loss of one of its most important players for a third consecutive season.
The previous two years, it was a devastating injury to Jeremy Lin that had sent Brooklyn into a tailspin.
On Nov. 14 at Barclays Center, the Nets, playing their first game since leading scorer Caris LeVert went down for several months with a dislocated right foot, hardly put up a fight in a 120-107 loss to Miami that saw the Heat score 70 points in the paint.
But buoyed by the return of veteran forwards DeMarre Carroll and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn has bounced back nicely to win two of its last three games, including Tuesday night’s 104-92 throttling of the Heat in front of a sellout crowd of 19,600 at American Airlines Arena.
Having gone a combined 48-116 over the past two seasons, both of which were at least in part derailed by Lin’s injuries, the Nets are refusing to sink into a hole following the loss of LeVert, who could be back following the All-Star break if his rehabilitation doesn’t include any setbacks.
On Wednesday, the Nets got some revenge on the Heat thanks to the contributions of D’Angelo Russell (20 points, nine rebounds, six assists), Carroll (10 points during a game-changing 18-4 second-half run) and Hollis-Jefferson, who came off the bench to provide 10 points, seven boards and his usual tenacity on defense.
Brooklyn surrendered only 15 points in the fourth quarter, holding Miami to a single made 3-pointer over the final 12 minutes, while putting up 30 points of its own.
At 8-10, the Nets are only one game out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and more importantly, they enter Wednesday’s finale of a back-to-back in Dallas having gone a solid 5-6 away from Brooklyn this season.
The loss of LeVert doubtlessly created more opportunities for the likes of Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who amassed 16 points and seven assists off the bench against Miami.
It also put a chip on the Nets’ collective shoulders as many prognosticated that the team would surely sink back into NBA obscurity as a result of losing a player who was emerging as the franchise’s lone potential All-Star this season.
“It’s tough, losing a guy like Caris, everything he does,” admitted Hollis-Jefferson, who played 26 minutes as he continues to ramp up his playing time after sitting out all but nine of Brooklyn’s games thus far this year due to an injury.
“It’s definitely tough, but we also have got to have the mindset of ‘next man up, and be ready when your name is called,’” he added. “At the end of the day I feel like we’re doing a good job of making that transition and that switch. Sky’s the limit. Just keep progressing and keep going.”
Carroll, who has only participated in seven games this season after suffering an ankle injury during the Nets’ exhibition slate, emerged as an unlikely offensive catalyst in the second half.
With Brooklyn behind by seven late in the third quarter, Carroll drained a 25-footer, sank a pair of free throws, hit a driving layup and drilled another long-range bomb to put the Nets ahead to stay, 83-78, with 9:32 to play.
“It was all about rhythm for me. It was only my sixth game back,” Carroll noted.
“I’ve just got to continue to keep finding my rhythm and see where I fit in with this ballclub. Changes. I think everybody got better. We added new pieces. It’s not my first rodeo. I’ll find it. I’ve just got to keep pushing.”
As do the Nets, who will open a four-game homestand in Brooklyn following their brief stop in Dallas on Wednesday.
They have done a solid job of surviving the road-heavy early portion of their schedule, as well as the loss of Levert, and will host Minnesota here on Friday afternoon hoping to improve on their 3-4 mark at Barclays Center.
“I think we’ve just got to learn how to finish, finish games,” Carroll insisted. “That’s what we’ve got to do, learn how to finish. Once we do that, we can start moving towards bigger and better things.”
Nothing But Net: Jarrett Allen, who missed a pair of games last week due to illness, has come roaring back with double-doubles in each of his last three contests, including 13 points and a season-high 14 rebounds Tuesday against Miami. “His little illness there, his little sabbatical there — it’s like he has this burst of energy now; that’s phenomenal,” head coach Kenny Atkinson said of his second-year center. “The offensive rebounding has kind of come out of nowhere. But he’s playing with a ton of energy. I thought in the beginning of the game he was the key, protecting that rim and coming over and blocking shots, affecting their drives.”
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Following a 3-0 start to the season, the LIU-Brooklyn men’s basketball team has lost its last two games, including Tuesday night’s 92-87 overtime setback at the University of Milwaukee.
Junior Jashaun Agosto scored a career-high 25 points and handed out six assists and senior Raiquan Clark added 21 points for the Blackbirds (3-2), who struggled to make a basket during the extra session while Milwaukee drained all 10 of its free throws down the stretch to pull away for good.
The Blackbirds will return home to Downtown Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon, when they host NJIT at the Steinberg Wellness Center.
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