Something has to change for the Nets after two blowout losses to the 76ers put them in a 2-1 hole heading to Game 4 of their first-round playoff series Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center. Most likely, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson will expand the role played by Caris LeVert, who has been their most dynamic offensive player in the series.
LeVert has averaged 20.7 points off the bench in only 23:41 and shot 48.8 percent from the field (21-for-43) and 53.3 percent from three-point range (8-for-15). In Game 3, he scored 19 points in the second quarter to cut the Nets’ halftime deficit to six points, then didn’t get back in the game until 5:31 remained in the third quarter with the Nets behind by 15. He then had five points in a 14-3 surge that cut an 18-point deficit to seven.
Considering that starting shooting guard Joe Harris has struggled from three-point range the past two games and also has had a tough time covering JJ Redick, Atkinson either could start LeVert in his place or play him for longer stretches off the bench. “We have to really look at it,” Atkinson said. “This is part of the adjustment game. Definitely, we’re back to the drawing board with that.”
Asked to clarify if that meant LeVert might start, Atkinson said, “I’d consider it. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. I think there’s a lot of different options we can do.”
Atkinson identified poor transition defense and rebounding as the biggest problems, but he said errant three-point shooting by the Nets puts pressure on their defense because they’re running back with little time to get set. In Game 3, they endured an 8-for-39 performance from three-point range.
Not only has Harris gone 0-for-6 from outside the arc in the past two games, but point guard D’Angelo Russell has struggled with his three-point shooting while often matched against 6-10 Ben Simmons. Atkinson said Russell’s shot selection could have improved in Game 3, adding that the 76ers are packing the paint to prevent drives and that the Nets can do a better job kicking the ball out for open threes.
LeVert has given the 76ers problems with his speed attacking the rim. “I keep telling him to stop shooting all those floaters, but he continues to do it and they’re going in,” Atkinson said. “Their bigs are back; he’s got to make some of them to keep them honest.”
LeVert laughed and said floaters often were his best option while driving against 7-3 Boban Marjanovic. “Honestly, I think what I’m doing is a byproduct of how they’re guarding everybody else,” he said after Friday’s practice. “They’re kind of denying Joe, denying D’Angelo, same with Spencer [Dinwiddie].
“I feel like they’re trying to make me beat them, not really let me score but kind of baiting me into taking tough shots. I’m just trying to be aggressive.”
LeVert declined to question his playing time, saying Atkinson has “done a great job with the rotations all year.” But he said they have discussed possible lineup changes.
“We talked about making certain changes,” LeVert said. “We haven’t really set anything in stone yet though.”
Russell would welcome playing more with another ballhandler. “It definitely takes the pressure off me to bring it up and facilitate,” he said. “I can almost get off [the ball] and become a scoring guard.”
Another option for Atkinson is to use LeVert, Russell and Dinwiddie together for longer stretches. “I think it remains to be seen,” Dinwiddie said, “but I think that’s something that we probably certainly are hoping for in this series.”
Davis out. Atkinson ruled Ed Davis out with a sprained left ankle. He sprained his right ankle in Game 1.