Nets vs. Raptors: Allen Crabbe Sharp in Second Game Back

Brooklyn fitting Crabbe and LeVert into the rotation heading towards All-Star break

So, the Nets got Caris LeVert back, and they lost to the Bulls, and ... oh yes, Allen Crabbe made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points.

While there were more front-and-center items to ruminate on postgame after Friday night's loss to the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center, the performance from Crabbe in his second game back from a 26-game injury absence was a bright light going into Monday night's game in Toronto against the Raptors.

The 6-foot-6 swingman was in stride after a slow start to the season before being sidelined with knee soreness in December. When he came back in Wednesday's win against Denver, he quickly knocked down his first attempt. Against the Bulls, he was 5-for-9 from 3-point range and 7-for-12 overall.

"Just being aggressive," said Crabbe. "Going out there doing what I can for the team. Trying to find my offense within the flow of the offense and just trying to be aggressive."

RETURNS AND ROTATIONS

Much of Kenny Atkinson's lineup shuffling during the season has come with adapting to injuries and losing players from the rotation. Now, things seem to be going in the other direction. Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert returned this week. Next up, Jared Dudley (hamstring) and Spencer Dinwiddie (thumb surgery).

Atkinson uses the word "resilient" often to describe the way his team has handled injuries this season. With a 21-10 record in their last 31 games, the Nets have done far more than just hang in there while shorthanded, they've thrived. They've been defined by depth, with players stepping in to fill a need. Not counting two-way players Theo Pinson and Alan Williams, 13 of the 14 players on Brooklyn's full NBA roster have had a regular rotation spot at some point in the season.

Now the Nets are on the path of adapting to having a whole roster. It starts by incorporating LeVert and Crabbe after lengthy absences, and after Friday night's game against Chicago, the Nets have two games remaining before the All-Star break to see where things are.

“Well I think these three games are big," said Atkinson before Friday night's game against Chicago. "Allen coming back too I think it’s obviously we have a lot more perimeter players now, potential rotation guys. so just figuring – these three games obviously first goal is to win them, and then the second goal is to start figuring out what the minutes look like going forward. And we just have to get information, see where everybody is. There’s some newness to this. I think you’ll probably see lineups that we haven’t seen. So it’ll be interesting.”

THE RUSSELL RELATIONSHIP

Nineteen months after Sean Marks made his move to get D'Angelo Russell from the Lakers -- just two years removed from Russell being selected second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft -- it's clear the deal has been beneficial for both parties.

While Russell's first season was interrupted by a knee injury, year two of the partnership has produced the first All-Star season of Russell's four-year career and given Brooklyn its first All-Star since 2014 -- plus a 29-28 record with 25 games to go after three straight years of fewer than 30 wins.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson has raved about Russell's buy-in to the Nets development approach -- "We ask a lot of our guys," said Atkinson -- and Russell has embraced a team-first approach while elevating his game, averaging 19.8 points and 6.5 assists while shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point range.

"As we started to have some success and he started to have some success, that trust gets better, the relationship gets better," said Atkinson. "What’s great when you have that trust and you have that relationship, it’s like with your kid, you give them a little more freedom. I think that’s where we are. I’m not on him about every mistake, definitely give him a longer leash because we have that trust. He’ll raise his hand, and it’s like, ‘Hey, I screwed the one up. I should have rebounded, that ball should have been passed.’ He kind of knows it. We have good chemistry right now."

ABOUT THE RAPTORS

Toronto is 41-16 and second in the Eastern Conference, having won its last four games after Saturday night's win over the Knicks. The Raptors are top 10 in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating -- joined only by Eastern Conference leader Milwaukee -- and have a net rating of 5.2, fifth in the league. Kawhi Leonard averages 27.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 37.1 percent from 3-point range. Kyle Lowry is second in the league with 9.3 assists per game and averages 14.2 points. In the frontcourt, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam each average at least 15.0 points and 7.0 rebounds. Danny Green is shooting 41.6 percent from 3-point range on 5.3 attempts per game.

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