Caris LeVert returning to form as Nets make final playoff push
The Nets are in the final countdown of the Eastern Conference playoff race with just six games remaining, including four at Barclays Center, and their chances never looked better than after the conclusion of their seven-game, 17-day odyssey that ended Thursday night in Philadelphia. Although the Nets went 2-5 on that road trip and dropped to seventh place, they saw positive signs for the stretch run, starting Saturday night against the Celtics.
The most important is the return to form of Caris LeVert, who has struggled since coming back Feb. 8 from a 42-game absence to recover from a dislocated right ankle. In their previous two losses to the Trail Blazers and 76ers, LeVert was the Nets’ bright spot, averaging 17 points and five assists and shooting .500 from the field (11-for-22) and from three-point range (3-for-6).
Call it a small sample size, but if LeVert maintains that pace, it will provide a major boost. In Philadelphia, he was especially effective teaming with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson coming off the bench as a small five-man.
“Thrilled,” coach Kenny Atkinson said of LeVert. “He really got out on the break. I think that’s Rondae and him. We speeded up the game, and that definitely fits his style of play.”
Physically, LeVert has looked fine, but now it appears he’s regaining his timing to finish around the rim. “Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I definitely feel a lot more comfortable just doing the same things I have been doing. I’ve been seeing some results. When you go through an injury like that, you don’t know what to expect coming back.”
Hollis-Jefferson has been tight with LeVert since he joined the team three seasons ago, and he loves playing with him because of the fast pace. Having overcome his own injury problems this season, Hollis-Jefferson knows how much it means to LeVert to produce as he did at the start of the season.
“It’s just exciting to see,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Everybody knows how he was before his injury, so we know the capability and the potential is going to come back. He worked so hard, and he’s slowly starting to take that step. I’m just proud of him, going to keep pushing him and striving for that greatness.”
All six remaining games are against teams currently in the playoffs, and many young Nets are experiencing playoff pressure for the first time.
Asked about their sense of urgency, LeVert said: “We don’t want to play tight or anything like that. But obviously, right now we know what’s on the line, and we want to play as hard as we can. I feel like that’s the mindset every single game.”
And if they make the playoffs? “It would be huge for the organization,” LeVert said. “It would be huge for every guy on our team to experience that.”