Nets vs. Hornets: Brooklyn Seeks Rhythm on the Road

Nets returned from All-Star break with loss to Portland

It's never been quite right to call the post-All-Star Game phase of the season the NBA's second half, considering it happens so deep in the season that teams are two-third of the way through their schedules.

But for the Nets, in some ways, it's not the second half or the third third -- it's closer to day one.

"It’s almost like another new season for us with all our returning players," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson after Friday's practice.

In the week before the All-Star break, the Nets welcomed back Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe after significant injury absences. In the first game after the All-Star break, Jared Dudley returned after missing 16 games. Eventually, Spencer Dinwiddie will be back in the mix too.

The Nets are working in significant players at a crucial time, with 22 games remaining in the season. After Thursday's loss to Portland, they remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-30 record, 1.5 games ahead of seventh-place Charlotte (27-30) and 2.5 games ahead of ninth-place Orlando (27-32).

Thursday's game was the start of a 10-game block with seven home games before a rugged push to the finish over the final 13 games.

"It just doesn’t happen in practice," said Atkinson of working players back into a rhythm and rotation. "We need more games. The issue there is our runway isn’t as long. We don’t have a 60-game runway to say, ‘Oh man, let’s figure this out.’ Obviously Caris coming back to catching his rhythm, we knew it was going to take time. We’re crazy if we think it’s just going to happen like that."

"We just need time," added Atkinson, "but we’re pressed for time.”

TRACKING CARIS

Thursday night's game against Portland was Caris LeVert's fourth since returning from his foot injury, and he was back in the starting lineup, as he had been for the final game before the All-Star break. There were plenty of flashes of the familiar LeVert, breaking down defenders and controlling contact in the lane on finishes.

He ended up playing 20 minutes and scoring 12 points.

“I continue to say he looks really good physically," said Atkinson. "I think just the offensive game, you look at the four games at 36 percent [shooting] and 3-for-15 from 3. I just think it’s a matter of time before he catches his rhythm. I think he needs one really good game, one of those authentic Caris LeVert games.”

BACK TO CHARLOTTE

Two nights after Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier played their first game of the season against their former teammates from Portland, Treveon Graham is headed to Charlotte. The Hornets gave Graham his first NBA opportunity after a season in the G League, and he played two seasons in Charlotte before signing with Brooklyn this year. Graham missed the Nets first two games against the Hornets while he was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

The Hornets are also one of the teams in the mix for the Nets for the final three Eastern Conference playoff spots, and the Nets play them twice in seven days, along with Miami, Detroit, and Washington, in a 10-game block of their schedule.

"These games are going to be real important, starting with yesterday," said Graham. "We let that one go, but I feel like, again, once everybody gets back rolling from the All-Star break I think we'll be fine. These are definitely winnable games that we can go in there and get. Hopefully everybody's on track and ready to go."

ABOUT THE HORNETS

Charlotte lost four of its last five games before the All-Star break and opens up the final stretch of the season Friday night at home against the Wizards. All-Star guard Kemba Walker leads the Hornets with 24.5 points and 5.6 assists. The Nets and Hornets played twice during Christmas week and split the pair, with each team winning at home. They're playing in close proximity once again -- the Hornets will visit Brooklyn next Friday.

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