MIAMI — For the second time in as many weeks, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson backed off when it came to changing his starting lineup against the Miami Heat on Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Atkinson said the logical choice might have been to move Caris LeVert into the starting lineup, just as he did last season when the Nets put together a strong finishing kick.
But last season, LeVert was playing small forward. Now he’s the backup point guard, which was a vital consideration.
“We put him in the starting lineup last year because we wanted defense,” Atkinson said. “The way he’s played, he’s pushing everybody. [But] it’s tough to do it right now. I don’t want to get him out of his comfort zone. He’s kind of leading that second unit. These are things we debated.”
LeVert had a painful left hip pointer but was determined to play against the Heat. Sure enough, he forced his way into the Nets’ 111-87 win over Miami and played a major role off the bench with 12 points and 11 assists in 23 minutes.
Said Atkinson, “This morning, he said, ‘I’m playing.’ I said, ‘We’ve got to talk and see how it feels.’ But he was convinced. He was not supposed to shoot around, but he ended up in every drill we were doing. He’s a gamer, a tough kid.”
LeVert admitted he was dealing with some pain, but there also was the pain of a terrible loss two nights earlier in New Orleans that he wanted to help erase.
“Well, I love playing, so it was going to be tough for me to sit out,” LeVert said. “I was in a little bit of pain, but I didn’t feel like it was enough to keep me out of the game. I told the trainers that, and they were OK with it. They had prepared me, and I felt good.”
LeVert and former Michigan teammate Nik Staus kas have shown some backcourt chemistry on the second unit.
“It’s tough to mess with that right now,” Atkinson said. “And part of it is for their development, too. Caris struggled a little bit off the ball in the beginning of the year. So he’s in his comfort zone, and the way the minutes go, it’s better for him with that second unit.
“I haven’t talked to them about the Michigan connection, but it seems like they get along, a shared culture, played for a good coach in John Beilein. It’s nice to see the chemistry they have, and Nik has played well. We’re going to have to try to find some minutes for him.”
Speaking of his relationship with Stauskas, LeVert said: “It feels good. We had some really good moments at Michigan his first two years there, and it’s good we can continue that.”