Caris LeVert of the Nets reacts against the Hornets during...

Caris LeVert of the Nets reacts against the Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on February 22, 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Streeter Lecka

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Nets were coming off a tough overtime loss in Philadelphia in their first game after the All-Star break and still dealing with the repercussions of losing Kyrie Irving for the season because of shoulder surgery. But Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said the Nets are used to fighting through injuries and could lean on the leadership of their veterans to survive.

Mission accomplished in grand fashion. The Nets put together a dominant third quarter to break the game open, and Caris LeVert led a defensive effort that shut down Charlotte sharpshooter Devonte Graham on the way to a 115-86 victory that snapped a three-game winning streak by the Hornets Saturday night at Spectrum Center.

The last time the Nets faced the Hornets on Dec. 11 in Brooklyn, they blew a 20-point lead and allowed Graham to get off for 40 points. But LeVert, who had a career-high six steals to go with his 17 points, had the primary responsibility for hounding Graham into a 1-for-10 shooting night for just six points.

“We have these scouts, and a lot of times, they say, ‘Hey, put Caris on Devin Booker, put Caris on Devante Graham,’” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think he’s really improved defensively. He always plays hard, he always has great activity, but he’s learning the nuances of what it takes to be a great defender in our league.”

LeVert credited his film study for allowing him to help contain Graham. “I know the things he likes to do, so I just tried to take him out of that, tried not to give him any easy looks,” LeVert said. “But it wasn’t just me. We switched a lot on ball screens. I feel like \[Wilson Chandler\] moved his feet extremely well, Spencer [Dinwiddie] moved his feet, a lot of guys played great defense. It really was a team effort.”

It gave the Nets (26-29) an 8-4 record over their past 12 games, and it gave them a measure of redemption for blowing a 20-point lead two nights earlier against the 76ers. This time, the Nets built on a 10-point halftime lead by holding the Hornets to just 18 third-quarter points and pushing their lead to 25 by the end of the period.

Besides LeVert, Atkinson credited the defensive effort of veterans DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple and Chandler and strong play off the bench by leading scorer Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who had 21 points. Temple had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and while Chandler was scoreless, he played a key defensive role.

Atkinson praised the Nets’ “maturity” and said, “That’s one of the few times I can remember where we didn’t really let the [opponent] come back at all into the game and kept pushing and stamped them out . . . I felt like there was a little chip on our shoulder tonight. We wanted to prove something. I feel it in that locker room that we can still do something special. There’s enough talent in there to do something special. That’s for sure.”

Without Irving, the Nets must emphasize defense, and they have been near the top of the NBA lately in defensive efficiency. P.J. Washington topped the Hornets with 16 points, and they got 15 from Malik Monk, but they were held to 35.2 percent shooting by the Nets, who also outrebounded them 54-45. The Nets shot 48.3 percent from the field, committed only 10 turnovers and had a 50-36 advantage in points in the paint.

It was a great turnaround from Philadelphia. “I think we should have won that, and everybody in this room thinks the same thing,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said of the 76ers loss. “We want more than what we have right now. We’re hungry. We really want to prove ourselves and do a lot of things.”

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