In the NBA restart, there’s no doubt about who the Brooklyn Nets need to lead them. On a reshuffled roster, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris form the core that needs to carry the weight.
They did so in a big way on Sunday afternoon, combining for 83 points in a 118-110 win over the Washington Wizards.
“We realized we really needed the win out there,” said LeVert. “Guys who have been here – myself, JA and Joe – we kind of took it into our own hands and said we can’t lose this game. We just went in there and gave it everything we had.”
LeVert was on top with 34 points after his takeover fourth quarter, adding seven rebounds and three assists. Harris matched his season-high with 27 points, making 6-of-7 3-pointers and shooting 10-of-13 overall and grabbing seven rebounds. Allen also matched his season-high with 22 points and posted his 27th double-double of the season with 15 rebounds, while making all 10 of his free throws.
All three players played at least 37 minutes, with LeVert logging 39.
“We anticipate playing a lot of minutes here throughout,” said Harris. “We’re in the position where we are just a little bit limited in terms of our roster. Guys are still trying to get incorporated into (head coach Jacque Vaughn’s) philosophy. It’s not an easy transition for a lot of these guys to come in, whether they’ve been quarantined for however long, come in, get practice reps, get themselves back into basketball-playing shape, and then pick up everything that we’ve been doing for a majority of the season. It’s not an easy transition for a lot of guys, so with that being said, there’s a lot of more on the shoulders of the guys that have been around — (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), Rodi (Kurucs), (Dzanan) Musa, JA, Caris and myself and Garrett (Temple) obviously.”
With the win, the Nets took a big step towards extending their stay on the NBA Campus in Orlando. They are now seven games ahead of Washington in the standings with six games left to play. The Wizards must make up three games in that span to get within four games of the Nets and force a play-in for the postseason if Brooklyn finishes eighth, behind Orlando.
“It’s huge,” said Harris. “Obviously like you said, you look at the schedule, you look at the standings. You realize the importance of teams that are all jockeying in the same position. We’re obviously competing to try to get into the playoffs, and there’s no guarantees. Obviously with the play-in format, as well, Orlando, Washington, these games are extremely important for us.”
Brooklyn was trailing 96-92 in the fourth quarter when Harris knocked down a pair of threes around a Washington basket to tie the game at 98 with 6:59 remaining. LeVert took it from there, scoring 14 of Brooklyn’s next 18 points.
“Oh, that was my favorite show to watch, seeing Caris LeVert go to work, seeing how far he’s come, just being able to play one-on-one,” said Allen. “He was calling me saying ‘Hey JA, I don’t want the screen.” And I respected that; he didn’t want the screen and they couldn’t stop him. So that’s just a testament to how hard he’s worked and how hard he’s improved.”
LeVert attacked the lane at will over those final six minutes, either finishing with short jumpers after creating space for himself, or drawing fouls and getting to the line. He made 10-of-13 free throws, and the Nets hit 31-of-37 from the line.
“I feel like last game, they were doubling a lot and I kind of let that take me out of what I was doing,” said LeVert. “But tonight, going into the game, I was like, ‘I’m not going to let that take me out of the game. I’m not going to let that take us out of what we’re trying to do.’ We kind of just figured it out. I’m going to go iso; I’m going to go low and catch it. Sometimes in the post, sometimes at the top of the key. My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in space and trusting me to make plays.”
Aside from the impact on the standings, the Nets bounced back from a rough night in their Orlando opener against the Magic just 48 hours earlier.
“I think you just look at it as another opportunity to compete,” said Harris. “Even over the course of the NBA’s schedule, you’re gonna have games where you’re gonna take your lumps. You’re gonna have pretty bad defeats. But you’ve gotta be able to respond and come back in and compete the next night. That’s not to say we’re gonna rest on this one, either. We have a lot of tough games coming up, and the mentality, the approach has got to be exactly the same as this one. We’re hungry to try to get a win. We’re hungry to compete.”