Brooklyn Nets Caris LeVert Has his Rhythm Going into the Playoffs
Nets guard closed the regular season with a string of strong offensive efforts
The Brooklyn Nets are headed to the playoffs, and it looks like Caris LeVert — the real deal, playmaking, break-'em-down, finish-at-the-rim, drop-in-a-deep-three Caris LeVert — is ready to go with them.
The Nets guard wrapped up the regular season with an efficient 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four assists and three rebounds against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, playing 20 minutes in a night of limited action for the Brooklyn starters.
It's been two months now since LeVert first returned to the court on Feb. 8 at Barclays Center against the Bulls. He had been gone for three months after dislocating his foot in Minnesota on Nov. 12, an injury that seemed season-ending at first glance.
In the seven games leading up to the season finale, LeVert put together the longest stretch of consistent production since his return, averaging 16.9 points and 4.3 assists, shooting 47.1 percent overall and 43.3 percent from 3-point range.
"It’s huge. Just what that can do to your mental, getting hurt, the pressure you put on yourself, the pressure you guys put on us, it’s something you’re the only one is going to get through it," said Nets guard D'Angelo Russell. "No one else is going to get through it. So for us to see him break through like that – credit to our performance team as well. Those guys are scientists back there and just cooking up whatever is best and prepare our bodies for whatever it’s going to go through. Man, it’s good to see him like that. Well deserving."
LeVert has said he's felt like himself for a while now, but the boxscores over the month or so after his Feb. 8 return showed a little more of a one step forward, one step back pattern, at least in terms of his shotmaking.
That started to turn at the end of Brooklyn's seven-game road trip at the end of March. LeVert scored 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting with seven assists at Portland and followed with 18 points in Philadelphia. Back in Brooklyn, he went for 24 points against Milwaukee's league-leading defense, making 4-of-8 3-pointers and handing out six assists.
When the Nets hit the road for a weekend back-to-back with their playoff fate hanging in the balance, LeVert scored another 24 on the Bucks, this time shooting 9-for-12 and making 4-of-5 3-pointers with another six assists. The next night in Indiana, he had 18 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals as the Nets clinched a playoff spot with their win over the Pacers.
“I think it’s just a testament to Caris and his character, how much work he’s put in to be back to this point," said Nets guard Joe Harris. "Even though the injury wasn’t as significant as what everybody originally thought, it was still a pretty terrible injury. For him to even get back to this point in the season, for him to be playing the way that he is, it just speaks to Caris and how hard he’s worked, how much time he’s put in in terms of recovery and physical therapy just to get back to this point. Obviously I think everybody knows that Caris has a bright future and I think having sort of an unfortunate setback, there’s a bit of a silver lining to it. Caris powered through some really difficult adversity and he’s just going to be better for it.”
Now it's on to Philadelphia and the playoffs. Philadelphia center Joel Embiid — whose status for the weekend seems to be up in the air a bit — has been a challenging matchup for Brooklyn. When asked Tuesday how the Nets would counter the size and physicality of their playoff opponent, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, "Do the opposite. Use our speed, spread the court, shoot threes."
Nets guards have had big nights against Philadelphia, with Spencer Dinwiddie averaging 23.8 points on 57.7 percent shooting and Russell averaging 21.0 points and 7.3 assists. LeVert has seen the Sixers just twice this season, once before his injury and once after. He's averaged 19.0 points and shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range.
With Atkinson counting on his guards again vs. the Sixers, he's encouraged by the version of LeVert he's seen at the close of the season.
"Just so anxious for him to get to that level," said Atkinson. "I think he was frustrated by not getting there sooner. I knew there was going to be a point where it clicked and I think that happened four or five games ago. The good thing, we haven't seen any regression; you're afraid well it's just a one-game thing or a two-game thing. Now he's stringing three, four, five games together. I think it changes the conversation. To me, I look at it, he's like an x-factor in these playoffs. If he can continue to play at the level he's playing, even raise it one more level, that gives us more confidence going into the playoffs."
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