ATLANTA — Treveon Graham missed his third straight game with back soreness Saturday night against the Hawks, and while the Nets’ offense has improved with rookie Rodions Kurucs starting at power forward, Graham remains an important defensive presence.
Kenny Atkinson still expects Graham to return quickly to health, and then he’ll have a decision to make about whether to expand his regular playing rotation from nine to 10.
“We need him back,” Atkinson said. “I think it’s game-to-game. You look at tonight, and we’ve got [Hawks power forward] John Collins. We had Kevin Love last game. It’s nice to have T.G. as another body to throw at big, strong guys like that. It’s worked out so far with Rodi, but I do think we need a backup plan.”
Nets’ 3-headed monster
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said the Nets are one of the toughest teams in the league to defend because of their guard trio of D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert.
“Caris is probably the best in terms of getting by his guy, using pick-and-rolls and shiftiness,” Pierce said. “D’Angelo is a little more of a prober. He takes his time, puts the defender on his hip. He settles for floaters, he shoots the mid-range. Then Dinwiddie gets downhill and he gets fouled and he’s creative in how he does it.
“All three guys are really good at what they do. We have a hard time with these guys, and it’s because of those three guys. When you have one guy go out, the next guy comes in and is equally as dangerous.”
Atkinson enjoys Carter
Atkinson praised the Hawks as a team with a lot of “nice young pieces,” but he saved special words for Vince Carter, 42, who is shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range and averaging 7.1 points in 16.6 minutes in his 20th NBA season.
“The Vince Carter thing is a great story for basketball, a guy playing as well as he’s playing, a guy that plays the right way, still can shoot the ball,” Atkinson said. “I really enjoy watching Vince play.” Carter has said he intends to return next season.