MIAMI — The late, great sportswriter Dan Jenkins once wrote a novel titled “You Gotta Play Hurt.” That’s exactly what Caris LeVert did in the Nets’ 116-113 loss to the Heat Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
LeVert had a right hand contusion that caused him to be listed as “questionable” before the game, but he persevered and scored 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting while playing a team-high 35:14. The painful epilogue is that he shot 1-for-6 from three-point range and was the only starter who was scoreless in the fourth quarter, when he missed all three shots, including two three-pointers, while playing 9:30, which was the Nets’ high in that period.
“I don’t think he’s 100 percent,” coach Kenny Atkinson said after the Nets’ fourth straight loss. “I definitely think there is some [pain]. But you know, he’ll tell you nothing is wrong. So listen to him, not me.”
LeVert said he suffered a right-hand contusion Friday night during the Nets’ 141-118 loss to the Hawks in Atlanta. But he determined in pregame warmups before playing the Heat in a road back-to-back that he was ready to go.
“I was going to pretty much play regardless unless I couldn’t hold the basketball,” LeVert said. “I warmed up some and felt OK, so I was good to go.”
There were a couple of times during the game where LeVert indicated he was feeling pain in his right hand. “Well, it’s my shooting hand, so it’s definitely not 100 percent,” LeVert said. “But if I’m out there, I’m OK.”
Not necessarily. LeVert was out there because he understood the Nets are in a tailspin and they need his skills. For anyone who wonders if he has a fractured bone in his right hand, LeVert said he has not had any X-rays on the hand and did not expect to have such an exam on Sunday, when the Nets were off.
Under his current circumstances, LeVert’s Nets teammates certainly appreciate his effort. “Caris has battled through a lot his entire career,” Joe Harris said. “This is nothing new for him. He’s one of our toughest players, and everybody knows that. He comes out and plays hurt.
“It’s one of those things where his resilience and toughness just sort of rubs off on everybody else. When you know that he’s battling through something, it’s definitely one of those things where it inspires the rest of the team.”
Be that as it may, LeVert and the rest of the Nets must find a way out of their 1-5 slide even though they face the Celtics, who are the third seed in the Eastern Conference, on Tuesday in Boston.
Since returning to the starting lineup for the past 11 games, LeVert has averaged 22.5 points and 5.0 assists, and Atkinson has been thrilled with his play at both ends of the court. “I knew it was coming, “Atkinson said. “I thought it was just a matter of time . . . It was a big jump from how he was playing and struggling a little bit to all of a sudden he’s in the watchtower up there.”