MINNEAPOLIS — The Nets return to Minnesota for the first time since Caris LeVert suffered a horrific dislocated right ankle that sidelined him for 42 games last season.
That event serves as a reminder of how much they need LeVert, who still is recovering from right thumb surgery this season and will miss his 23rd straight game against the Timberwolves on Monday night at Target Center.
Before the Nets’ announcement on Sunday that LeVert would be held out, coach Kenny Atkinson was taken aback when asked if he would have any qualms about LeVert returning in Minneapolis, the site of such a traumatic injury.
“It’s something we’ll have to consider,” Atkinson said before the Nets suffered their second straight loss Saturday in Houston.
Although the Nets decided to wait a little longer, LeVert has been taking part in full-contact practices and is close to a return. The Nets’ loss to the Rockets marked the second straight game in which they were “out of sync offensively,” in Atkinson’s estimation. The Nets have gone 12-8 without injured Kyrie Irving and 12-10 without LeVert, but the sense of urgency for reinforcements to improve the offense is mounting.
“That’s one way to look at it,” Atkinson said. “It’s fair. But I think we have enough even without Caris and Kyrie. We didn’t play up to the level we need to [play at] to beat a really good team like this.”
One positive sign in the loss to the Rockets was that Taurean Prince snapped out of a prolonged shooting slump with a 16-point effort that included 4-for-8 three-point shooting. He suggested injuries have caused problems for the Nets because of shifting lineups. Key backup David Nwaba also was lost for the season recently with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“That’s what happens when you have different lineups and time slots when you come in and out of the game,” Prince said. “People are just trying to feel out everybody and get used to the chemistry. Obviously, we have a few guys hurt that we started the year with and had good chemistry with. Now it’s time to rebuild it and figure out what lineup works.”
Backup forward Wilson Chandler said the five-day break the Nets had before losing to the Knicks and Rockets might have disrupted their continuity on offense. “We had a long break,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to playing Nets basketball, sharing it, getting out on the break and getting easy buckets. I think our rhythm will come back.”
It would have been a case of poetic justice had LeVert returned against the T-Wolves, but that was not to be. Recalling the grim scene last season at Target Center, Spencer Dinwiddie said, “Obviously, we hope nothing like that happens again. All you remember from that game is him getting hurt. It’s sad at the end of the day. That’s really all you can say. It was just sad, man.”
After playing the Timberwolves, the Nets will end their three-game trip Thursday night in Dallas. They have a practice day on Wednesday and then they will have a decision to make about LeVert. He can’t return soon enough.