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Caris LeVert returns to practice for Nets after six-week layoff

Nets guard Caris LeVert reacts after he sinks

Nets guard Caris LeVert reacts after he sinks a three-pointer at Barclays Center on Nov. 4. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

After a season spent deducting healthy bodies from the roster, the Nets finally got one back when Caris LeVert rejoined them for practice on Monday after missing the previous six weeks to recover from right thumb surgery. There was no indication that LeVert would be available for the Nets’ next game against the Knicks on Thursday at Barclays Center, but the mere sight of him taking part in drills was encouraging for the Nets.

LeVert was averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists and had a .361 three-point percentage through the first nine games before his injury on Nov. 10 at Phoenix, but he has missed the past 20 games. “I don’t want to get too excited, but he did most everything in practice today,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He didn’t scrimmage, but we had coaches’ contact.”

Asked if the fact he has been cleared for contact means LeVert is close to playing, Atkinson said, “I don’t know. That’s a real positive step. I’m, not going to say the day or the date, but that’s a positive step. It’s trending up.”

Two games after losing LeVert, the Nets lost point guard Kyrie Irving, who has missed the past 18 games because of a right shoulder impingement. Spencer Dinwiddie stepped up to replace him as starting point guard and has led the Nets to a 12-6 record since then to improve the overall record to 16-13. Irving still has not been cleared for contact.

“He did stuff on his own but still no contact,” Atkinson said.

The Nets also lost David Nwaba for the season recently when he ruptured his right Achilles tendon, but they can apply for a disabled player exception following their game Saturday in Houston and would be able to add a 16th player to the roster if the NBA deems that Irving and LeVert will be absent another two weeks.

Given LeVert’s progress, it seems likely he will return within that two-week window. “I want to err on the side of wait and see,” Atkinson said. “After a day like today, it’s like you do the evaluation, how did it react, all that stuff. I would just say it’s real positive news today how much he did in practice.”

Following Saturday’s stirring fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Hawks, the Nets began a rare five-day break between games, the only such gap in the schedule other than the All-Star break in February. Atkinson said he is “pleasantly surprised” by how well they have adjusted to so many serious injuries, but he admitted the loss of Nwaba hit him hard because he was playing well and the Nets must adjust again.

“It seems like, when we have a guy the down, someone steps up and the group comes closer together,” Atkinson said. “We’re going to have to see with this group if we can continue, and the schedule gets harder. So, we’re going to enter into a stretch here (with a road trip to Houston, Minnesota and Dallas), what does that look like with a bunch of guys being out?”

At least, the Nets can look forward to LeVert’s impending return for reinforcements.

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