Things are looking grim in Brooklyn these days. The Nets, who came in with so much promise after overperforming last season, have appeared lost during their current five-game losing streak. Kyrie Irving, speaking publicly Saturday for the first time since Nov. 14, revealed his season could be over. Realistically, he said, next season is a more likely time for the Nets to put together a championship-caliber team.
So maybe right now is about the little victories. Such as the one on Saturday in which Caris LeVert, returning from a 24-game absence after thumb surgery, looked very much like his old self.
He is on a minutes restriction — he played only 16 minutes Saturday and coach Kenny Atkinson said he’s scheduled to sit Monday night in Orlando — but still scored 13 points in his first game back, including two three-pointers in the waning minutes of the third quarter. It kept the Nets close, though they eventually lost to the Raptors, 121-102.
LeVert wore a protective shield on his thumb and said he didn’t feel any hindrance or discomfort in his jump shot.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about the thumb at all.”
Atkinson said he plans to play LeVert at both guard positions and with the second unit, which has been a bright spot in a decidedly dark time.
His return, Atkinson said, “just adds one of our best players to the lineup, quite honestly. A dynamic player, athleticism, quickness, speed. Of course, a guy that knows our system, too. It’s not like some guy we signed out of the blue. I feel comfortable once he gets his rhythm. He knows what we’re doing on both sides of the ball, so that’s a big comfort level.”
The expectation is that LeVert will be able to get up to speed fairly quickly. He’s been able to keep up with his cardiovascular training, though Atkinson said there’s no substitute for NBA playing time. That’s the reason for the minutes restriction, even though the training staff has deemed LeVert a full go.
“I thought he looked like himself,” Joe Harris said. “I thought there didn’t look to be any rust whatsoever.”
Though this season seems to be taking a sharp turn for the worse, good news like this could portend better things, and LeVert is very much in that picture.
“Us veterans, we obviously signed here for a reason and that’s for the big picture, which is an NBA championship,” Irving said. “And the level of play that we have right now in our team — is it fitted for the future? I think that’s yet to be answered but I think we want to figure that out . . . Our guys are playing through injury, but our guys are still sustaining a fairly good level of play. We’ve been able to put together some good wins. Guys are getting better.”
Notes & quotes: Atkinson had nothing but praise for Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, who signed a two-way contract on Oct. 23. “He’s really doing everything we ask,'' Atkinson said. "I mean, the discussion from the defensive side, I think that was a little bit of the question mark, you know, him coming from other programs. Is he going to be able to defend the position? I think he’s done an outstanding job. He has that really good European feel offensively. He really knows how to drive and kick, plays unselfishly, has shot the ball well. It’s just been a real pleasant surprise. He’ll continue to get minutes. I think he’s earned the minutes.” . . . The Nets signed Chris Chiozza to a two-way contract. He has played in 57 games over two seasons for the Capital City Go-Go in the G League, averaging 12.8 points, 7.5 assists and 2.1 steals in 33.1 minutes per game.