OAKLAND, Calif. — Caris LeVert looked on the verge of a breakthrough earlier this season before repeated injuries robbed him of his form, and the Nets of their most dynamic reserve. But he’s showing signs of getting it back.
With the starting backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie struggling, and the Nets having dropped 11-of-12 — the past three in heartbreaking, final-minute fashion — they desperately need the young combo guard’s resurgence.
“It’s very frustrating. You feel like that’s half the games this year have come down to that, one or two plays, and we’ve been on the losing side of it probably 80 percent of the time,” the 23-year-old LeVert said. “We’ve got to figure out how to shut it up and get those wins.”
LeVert will come into Tuesday’s game against the defending-champion Warriors fresh off a career-high 27 points in the loss to the Clippers. He shot 11-of-19, dished out five assists, snatched five rebounds and hit a career-high five 3-pointers. It’s the kind of performance he hadn’t had in months.
“Just trying to win the game,” LeVert said. “You don’t think about it while you’re in the moment, just trying to do the next thing right.”
He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter alone and played well enough to keep Russell planted on the bench for the entire period.
“Caris was great. There’s no way [I was taking him out] with the game he was having,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “There’s only so many spots out there, so we had to go with Caris.”
It was LeVert’s best game since he posted 21 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks in a win over the Thunder on Dec. 7 in Mexico City. That was part of a sterling month for LeVert, one that showed why he was the Net who drew the most interest from rival executives before last year’s draft.
From Dec. 3 through Jan. 2, LeVert was second on the team in scoring (14.9)and Player Impact Estimate (13.7), dishing out 5.7 assists and shooting a red-hot 46.9 percent from deep. But a string of injuries knocked him off his game.
First came the left groin strain that cost LeVert two games from Jan. 3-6, then another sore left groin that sidelined him for three games from Jan. 27-31. He came back only to suffer both a concussion and right knee sprain Feb. 6 on a vicious screen from the Rockets’ Nene, missing five straight games.
Since that initial groin injury, he’d regressed to seventh on the team in scoring (11.1), and eight in PIE (9.3), hitting just 32.8 percent from behind the arc.
“For a young guy, it takes time [to get back in sync],” Atkinson said.
“I try not to think about the injury or anything like that,” LeVert said. “Just go in knowing I’m going to make mistakes, just try to knock the rust off a game at a time, just play. Play through it.”
That’s what he’s done, making clear strides. He’s averaged 14.3 points on 47.9 percent shooting, 46.7 from deep, in five games since coming back.
“He’s been injured a lot: That’s hard,” Dinwiddie said. “When people get injured and they miss more than two or three games, they’re going to lose it, they’re going to lose timing, all those things, and they have to get it back. The only way to do that is by playing.Caris had a great game. He’s just going to continue to get better and better the more he plays.”
That can only put LeVert in good stead. With the Nets facing a lead-guard logjam next season once the injured Jeremy Lin returns to join Russell, Dinwiddie and LeVert, they could field offseason offers or face a numbers crunch. These last 18 games could make general manager Sean Marks’ call easier.