LeVert’s scoring spurt good sign for Nets
Previously injured guard finding his rhythm in Brooklyn offense
Caris LeVert played like an All-Star for the first 14 games of this season before being felled by a broken foot.
Since his return on Feb. 8, the Nets’ ultra-athletic point guard had been slow to find his niche in the Brooklyn offense.
Until Monday night, that is.
In his sixth game back from injury, LeVert put together an impressive scoring spurt to close out the first half at Barclays Center, elevating the playoff-hopeful Nets to an impressive 101-85 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in front of 13,479 fans on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
LeVert, the team’s leading scorer (18.3 points per game) before missing 42 contests while recovering from surgery on his right foot, watched from the bench as backcourt mate D’Angelo Russell blossomed into All-Star form during his absence.
Russell, who torched the Spurs for 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists Monday night, has been adamant that all LeVert needed was time to find his footing in the surprising Nets’ push toward the postseason.
Held scoreless for the first 21 minutes against the Spurs, LeVert finally took over in the same manner he displayed as the Nets’ primary scoring option in October and early November.
The 24-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native drained a 3-pointer, drove the lane for one of his patented layups, converted a three-point play, knocked down a pair of free throws and hit a 12-footer to cap a personal 12-2 run against the Spurs, giving the Nets a 52-38 halftime lead.
“Very encouraging,” Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson said of LeVert’s binge before the break.
“I thought his drive game was good. He hit a big three I thought in the fourth quarter when we were struggling to get a bucket. D’Angelo found him off a drive. Those two, I think they’re getting their chemistry back a little.”
LeVert finished with 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds, finishing the night with a team high-tying plus-14 rating during his 27 minutes of court time.
More importantly, the 6-foot-7 University of Michigan product appeared comfortable taking the lead during Brooklyn’s key run of the contest, something he had been a bit gun shy about since his return.
He put an exclamation point on his performance with a dagger 3-pointer from 26 feet out with 3:24 remaining in regulation, giving the Nets a 96-81 cushion and ending any hope of a San Antonio comeback.
“I just keep staying on him about being positive,” noted Russell, who missed significant playing time a season ago with a knee injury.
“I remember coming back last year, and I was on myself and frustrated a little bit. We all know what he’s capable of doing, so just trying to keep pushing that positive advice.”
Joe Harris scored 15 points as he and Russell each knocked down five 3-pointers, spearheading Brooklyn to a 19-of-50 effort from long range as they held on to sole possession of sixth place in the ongoing Eastern Conference playoff race.
DeMarre Carroll grabbed 12 rebounds as the Nets beat the Spurs on the boards, 51-47, and held one of the NBA’s top 3-point shooting teams to a dismal 4-of-24 effort from beyond the arc.
Despite the gaudy offensive and defensive numbers, the Nets were more interested in talking about LeVert and his re-emergence as one of their most important players.
“Just a little bit of time for him to find his rhythm, and you’re starting to see it,” said Harris.
“We’ve been telling him just to keep being aggressive. For him, it’s a rhythm thing. He’s kind of coming back into it and I think he’s getting more comfortable, and you saw today he got it going a little bit.”
A little bit more from Levert and the continued contributions of Russell and Harris could help the Nets go a long way toward not only capturing their first postseason berth in four years, but actually posing a threat to some of the East’s top contenders come playoff time.
“D’Lo had most of the load before Caris came back,” Atkinson said. “But I can see them starting to come together a little bit. But having them both have good games — that’s key for us going forward.”
Nothing But Net: The Nets have won three of their last four games overall and opened their critical three-game homestand with their first win over the Spurs in the last seven meetings between the teams. Brooklyn will host Washington on Wednesday and Charlotte on Friday before traveling to Miami Saturday night. The Nets will play all but two of their next seven contests at Barclays, a stretch that Atkinson believes is very important with a grueling seven-game road trip through three time zones awaiting them later next month. “I think it’s an advantage playing here,” Atkinson said. “I think we have to make some money, especially knowing what comes after that.” … Russell’s 3-point brilliance Monday night was accentuated by a pair of longer-than-usual bombs, one from each side of the court, during the second half. “Some of my assistant coaches were going crazy, ‘What the heck is he doing?’” Atkinson said of the shots. “I do think with D’Lo, you’ve got to give him some freedom. I think that’s part of the reason he’s flourished. He needs a certain amount of freedom. I think I know the tipping point where we’ve got to bring him back, but he’s a creative player, plays well with freedom and a green light and that’s kind of the thinking behind a shot like that.”
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