Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert have been doing on-court work without contact. The Nets have been doing more winning than losing without them in the backcourt — 9-4 minus Irving and 9-6 minus LeVert — but now comes a stiff back-to-back test against two of the best.
They play the defending champion Raptors in Toronto Saturday night at 7:30, then face Philadelphia at Barclays Center Sunday night at 6.
“Yeah, tough task,” Kenny Atkinson said after Friday’s practice at HSS Training Center. “Tough back-to-back, especially with the quick turnaround the next day. … Both these teams we’re going to play are championship contenders, and it’s a great challenge for us.”
The Nets are 13-11 and looking up in the Eastern standings at the Raptors, who are 16-8, and the 76ers, who were 19-7 and on a 12-2 run heading into Friday night’s home game against New Orleans. The Nets will get their first look at both teams, which stand among the NBA’s top five in defensive rating.
Friday’s focus solely was on prepping for Toronto. Kawhi Leonard left for the Clippers, but Pascal Siakam has taken a large step forward. The 6-9 power forward is averaging 24.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
“He wasn’t ‘the’ guy the same as Kawhi, but he played a major role,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “This year, they gave him the keys per se and said, ‘You’re the guy and go for it.’ ”
Dinwiddie has been more like ‘the’ guy since Irving injured his shoulder. The guard scored at least 20 points in 11 of the Nets' last 13 games. But his three-point shooting was off — 2-for-12 — as the Nets split their last two. He had company in the three-point misery: the team combined to go 17-for-66 (25.8 percent).
“But it’s one of those things where you just got to stay aggressive,” said Joe Harris, who was 1-for-8 on threes in Wednesday’s loss to Charlotte. “[There are] a lot of ebbs and flows over the course of the NBA season, and you can’t let off-shooting nights affect your next game.”
Wilson Chandler’s next game— and his first with the Nets — is Sunday. The 6-8, 235-pound forward/guard was suspended for the first 25 games of the season after testing positive for a banned substance.
“I think that defensive presence is huge,” Atkinson said. “I think [he adds] toughness. He’s just a tough dude. That’ll help. And the simplicity of his game offensively, I think that’ll help our spacing, help our younger guys, help Spencer. We’ll be an improved team with him back.”
Notes & quotes: Atkinson had no timetable for Irving being cleared for contact. He reiterated that “the on-court, non-contact stuff has been ramped up.” Atkinson added that LeVert (thumb surgery) is “definitely starting to get some traction.” … Forward/center Nic Claxton (hamstring soreness) is out. … Chandler’s impending return led to Thursday’s waiving of Iman Shumpert. “I know this,” Atkinson said of Shumpert, “that guy belongs in the league.”