Call this take two for the Nets, a season reset. Kyrie Irving was brilliant in his first game back from a two-month absence for a shoulder injury as the Nets routed a lowly Hawks team playing without injured Trae Young Sunday night, and coach Kenny Atkinson kept Spencer Dinwiddie in the starting lineup in the backcourt with Irving while putting Caris LeVert in charge of the second unit but blending him in virtually equal doses with Irving and Dinwiddie.
It all looked great against the Hawks, who trailed by as much as 39 points in a 108-86 blowout. But the Nets are excited about testing their healthy, new-look lineup against a stretch of five straight opponents in playoff position, starting with a visit from the Jazz Tuesday night at Barclays Center and followed by a trip to Philadelphia to play the 76ers Wednesday night and then successive home dates with the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks, the 76ers and the Western Conference-leading Lakers and LeBron James.
Discussing the chemistry between himself, Irving and LeVert, Dinwiddie said, “Last night, we all had a very good game. That’s the kind of game it was. We’re going to be tested on these next several where we play really high-quality opponents that are all in the playoff race. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think it’s going to be fun. If [Irving] can shoot 90 percent and I can get eight assists every night, shoot, I’m rolling.”
Irving scored 21 points in 20 minutes on 10-for-11 shooting, Dinwiddie scored only seven points on low shot volume but had eight assists, and LeVert had 13 points as six Nets scored in double figures. Dinwiddie had averaged 24.8 points in the 26 games Irving sat out but took only seven shots against the Hawks because of the blowout, but coach Kenny Atkinson praised his defense and suggested that will be a major part of his role going forward.
“Most NBA games are not going to be like that," Dinwiddie said, "which means that the guys that typically carry the load — Kyrie, myself, Caris — are probably going to find their way into more opportunities just by being aggressive when the game is tighter. Kenny is going to continue to work it out. Obviously, we’re all going to have nights where we play 30-plus minutes, which means we’ll be on the floor together a lot.”
LeVert started the first nine games of the season before suffering a thumb injury that required surgery but has averaged 14.3 points in his first four games back, all off the bench.
“Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I pretty much have the same role for us, creating some offense for us,” LeVert said after practice Monday. As for how he and Dinwiddie will alternate with Irving and each other, LeVert added, “Last night was a little different with the score and with it being Kyrie’s first game back, but similar to the beginning of the year, both of us were coming into the season with that mentality.
“Everybody kind of knows the schedule coming up. We’re excited to see where we’re at as a team for sure.”
Notes & quotes: Following Sunday’s win over the Hawks, Irving said he expects to play against the Jazz and 76ers, which would be three games in four nights and a break with usual Nets policy of a slow build-up after injury, making it clear it was Irving’s call . . . A Nets official said the organization “is addressing” the roster situation for two-way player Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who is approaching his maximum allowed 45 days with the Nets. A decision is likely within the next week.