Nets vs. Heat: Caris LeVert Continues Build-Up in Return

Guard scored 20 points on Tuesday in second game back from injury

The road back continues for Caris LeVert when the Brooklyn Nets host the Miami Heat on Friday night at Barclays Center.

After missing 24 games, LeVert returned to action last Saturday against Toronto, was held out on the front end of a back-to-back against Orlando on Monday, then played in Tuesday night’s loss to Oklahoma City.

LeVert has come off the bench in both games, and played 22 minutes against the Thunder, but did not play in the overtime session. After Thursday’s practice at HSS Training Center, head coach Kenny Atkinson said the team is focused on an incremental “build-up” of LeVert’s game minutes.

“There’s two things,” said Atkinson. “Physically when you've been out that long and, listen we try and create game situations as much as possible here. There's a limitation to that and so when you go from practice situation to the build-up we do and all of the sudden to game reps, it's a shock to the body. It really is. We studied this. The intensity. You can't create the intensity in practice. You just can't. So now understanding it's that shock to the body, it's a recovery from that and what that looks like. Eight weeks off and all the sudden you're playing 32 minutes a game every game back-to-back, we just want to be more cautious in that.

“I do think part of that is, listen when you're playing in every game, there's a lot of this, you're getting hit, you're getting tangled I think there's soreness there that a game off helps with that. Caris will tell you he's not 100 percent. We saw it with Spencer (Dinwiddie) last year. Spencer's shooting, he really struggled with it. He struggled with pain and soreness so it's all that in a big kind of thing. Maybe it's a conservative approach and a cautious approach but I know I feel comfortable with it.”

Against the Thunder, LeVert scored 20 points with six rebounds and three assists, making 2-of-3 3-point attempts.

“For a guy that’s been out as long as he’s been out, it’s a darn good performance,” said Atkinson after the game. “I thought he looked fresh. Making the right decisions. Obviously made some tough shots. We were at the rim a couple times with him and they made good plays. But I liked how he played overall. Obviously part of the reason we were in the game right there and had a chance to win was because of his play.”

“I got good looks in the first half,” said LeVert. “Had a couple go in and out. For me, it was good to see I’m getting to my spots and everything like that, but like I said, it’s just fun being back out there.”

A START FOR KURUCS

Brooklyn’s rotations continued to evolve on Tuesday as the Nets not only worked LeVert back into the mix, but moved Rodions Kurucs into the starting lineup. The second-year forward has been regaining a larger role over the last three weeks after playing sporadic, limited minutes for about a six-week stretch.

A starter for 46 games as a rookie last year, Kurucs averaged 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 2018-19 and was selected for the Rising Stars game at NBA All-Star Weekend. But he struggled over the season’s first two weeks and fell out of the rotation, eventually playing eight games for Long Island in the G League.

Garrett Temple came off the bench after starting since Caris LeVert was injured in mid-November. The veteran had taken on an expanded role over that stretch, relied upon for scoring and playmaking with the second unit as the Nets staggered rotations and gave him significant minutes leading that group.

“Liked it. I thought it was good for both of them,” said Atkinson after Tuesday’s game. “I thought Rodi was really good and Garrett it gave him a real boost and managed his minutes. I was pleased with that change.”

ADDING ANDERSON AND CHIOZZA

The Nets opened the week with two new players in the fold, signing guard Chris Chiozza to a two-way contract last Friday, and Justin Anderson was signed to a 10-day contract on Monday.

Anderson made his Nets debut with a few minutes late in Monday’s loss to the Magic, while Chiozza played 37 minutes for Long Island on Wednesday.

“Getting to know them,” said Atkinson on Tuesday night. “There’s always a little bit of a feeling out process in the beginning, but that being said, I hope we can find some moments where we can see those guys in an NBA game. It’s just figuring that out with the games on our schedule, lineups and all that. I’d love to get a chance to get a look.”

ABOUT THE HEAT

This is the second meeting of the season between the Nets and Heat, following a 109-106 Heat win at Barclays Center on Dec. 1. Miami is 27-10 and has moved into second place in the Eastern Conference after winning eight of their last 10 games.

The Heat are fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage (46.9) and second in 3-point percentage (37.9). That combo makes the Heat third in effective field goal percentage (54.4). Miami also gets to the free throw line a bunch, ranking second with 26.0 attempts per game and third in free throws made per game (19.9). The Heat are 10th in offensive rating (110.4), 11th in defensive rating (106.7) and 10th in net rating (106.7).

Jimmy Butler leads Miami with 20.2 points per game, is third in the league in steals with 2.0 per game, and averages 6.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Third-year center Bam Adebayo is averaging 15.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. Veteran guard Goran Dragic averages 15.9 points and shoots 41.2 percent from 3-point range on 5.7 attempts per game. Duncan Robinson is shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range on 7.3 attempts per game and rookie Tyler Herro is shooting 38.8 percent from deep.

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