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Nets need push from power forward spot with playoffs looming

Treveon Graham of the Nets reaches for the

Treveon Graham of the Nets reaches for the ball during the first quarter against Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets at Barclays Center on Feb. 6. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Nets certainly could use a jolt from their power forward position to help reverse their recent slide.

Coach Kenny Atkinson’s players in the rotation at that spot endured a brutal game in the scoring column and on the boards in Thursday’s 113-99 home loss to Portland. Recent starter Treveon Graham and backup Rondae Hollis-Jefferson combined for two points and five rebounds in the team’s sixth loss in eight games entering Saturday’s visit to Charlotte.

“Everybody has their strengths. There’s offensive strength, there’s defensive strength, it’s just up to us to figure it out,” Atkinson said after practice in Brooklyn on Friday. “We’ve got a lot of good players . . . We can go a lot of different ways. I think right now it’s going to be game-to-game and matchup-to-matchup. We’ll figure it out.”

Graham, who played his first two NBA seasons with the Hornets, has made 15 starts in his last 19 games played for the Nets after missing more than 10 weeks with a hamstring injury. He continues to misfire from long range, connecting on just 26.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season.

"All you have to do is keep shooting,” he said. “Hopefully I get back into that consistent basis of making my threes. But if that's not falling, there's other things I can do to help the team:  facilitate, play defense, rebound. It's something I'm working on, but until that gets back to where it was, I've got to do other things to help the team.”

While Graham and Hollis-Jefferson mostly have been unproductive even when healthy, rookie Rodions Kurucs didn’t get off the bench in Thursday’s loss after participating in the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend. 

The Nets had been 18-11 in 29 games with Kurucs as a starter before he sat out the final game before the break with a sore left elbow. 

“Rodi’s in the mix to play. Just because he didn’t play [Thursday] doesn’t mean he’s not gonna play,” Atkinson said. “He’ll have an opportunity going forward. We have a lot of new parts moving in, coming back from injury. The thing is it’s just tough to play 12 guys, 11 guys. I don’t think the players like it. The staff doesn’t like it. I think we’ve been best with a 10-man rotation, nine. So it’ll just depend.”

The Nets also have been integrating starting guard Caris LeVert back into the rotation after he missed 42 games with a foot injury. In four games since returning, LeVert is shooting 36.2 percent (17-for-47) and averaging 10.2 points per game. 

“It’s almost like another new season for us with all our returning players,” Atkinson said. “Obviously, Caris coming back [trying] to catching his rhythm, we knew it was going to take time. We’re crazy if we think it’s just going to happen like that.

“We just need time, but we are pressed for time.”

With 22 games remaining, the Nets (30-30) remain sixth in the tightening Eastern Conference playoff picture, a game ahead of seventh-place Charlotte. 

“We’ve got to make up ground,” Atkinson said. “Obviously it hurts a little that it was a home game [Thursday] night . . . But we’ll have to make it up.”

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