The Nets’ final home game before the All-Star break was set up as a homecoming celebration for Caris LeVert to make his return from a long stay on the injured list.
After LeVert played seven minutes in the second quarter Friday night at Barclays Center, he saved the best for last, starting the fourth quarter with the Nets trailing by 13.
After the deficit grew to 18, LeVert scored seven straight Nets points in a rally that cut it to nine, but there was no Hollywood ending as the Nets suffered a bad 125-106 loss to a bottom-feeding Bulls team.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson faulted a defense that allowed the Bulls (13-42) to shoot 54.1 percent overall and 50.0 percent from three-point range (14-for-28). They scored 70 points in the second half.
Lauri Markkanen was dominant with 31 points and 18 rebounds. Zach LaVine added 26 points and Otto Porter had 18 in his first game as a Bull since being traded by the Wizards.
“Our defense was just non-existent,” Atkinson said. “Couldn’t keep them in front of us. Couldn’t guard them. They obviously made shots. They added shooting with Otto in there. It was really poor.”
On the bright side, LeVert — who suffered a dislocated right ankle Nov. 12 and missed 42 games — showed encouraging signs with the way he played through contact at the rim on his four fourth-quarter baskets. He finished with 11 points and four assists, tied his career high with five steals and was one of two Nets with a positive plus-minus number in his 15-minute stint.
“I thought he looked good, he was athletic, came downhill like he does, made some passes,” Atkinson said. “Obviously, there were a few bumps here and there, but for the most part he was a plus-[three], so he had some positives tonight and played well.”
D’Angelo Russell led the Nets (29-28) with 23 points. Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe each added 19 and Jarrett Allen had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Crabbe and LeVert each scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
LeVert received a warm welcome when he checked into the game early in the second quarter, and he thanked the fans for that.
“That was everything, man,” he said. “The fans are everything. I really appreciate all the fans. I wish we would have won the game, but that was huge.”
The most impressive part was how LeVert finished at the rim on his four baskets in the fourth quarter, including two on which he was knocked to the floor.
“I prepared for it,” he said. “We put a lot of time in over the last couple of months. I don’t want to make it about me because I wish we would have won the game, but that’s expected. We didn’t come back to just be there. We wanted to be better than before.”
On a bad night for the Nets, it was a good step back for LeVert.