Now that Caris LeVert is back, the Nets only have a quarter of the regular season to get him in sync with D’Angelo Russell if they want to make the postseason.
“D’Angelo got more responsibility with Spencer [Dinwiddie] out, and had the ball in his hands a lot,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “And with Caris out, his game flourished a little bit. Now, the task for him as we get guys back is to get back to that balance where him and Caris are playing together, he’s playing with Shabazz [Napier]. We’re in the process of trying to figure that out.”
Russell flourished with LeVert out for 42 straight games with a gruesome dislocated foot. With LeVert having just made his return five games ago, he’s still finding his footing.
Saturday showed auspicious signs, but more improvement needs to be made.
“There’s only  games left. But as a team we haven’t played a lot of games together at full strength. I think this last stretch of games will definitely be good for us, especially when Spencer is back,” said LeVert, who couldn’t estimate how long that adjustment process will take. “I don’t think it’s a set time. It’s a feel type of thing. We’ve done a good job of adjusting so far.”
The Nets (31-30) are sixth in the Eastern Conference, 1 ½ games ahead of Detroit and two ahead of Charlotte going into Monday. On Tuesday, they will host San Antonio, another chance for LeVert and Russell to try to recapture their old chemistry.
“They had great chemistry. So just getting that chemistry back, that’s part of it,” Atkinson said. “It just doesn’t happen in practice. 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 (snaps fingers). … It is [hard]. We just need time. But we’re pressed for time.”
They don’t have a lot. They have just those 21 games left on the regular-season slate as they try to reach the postseason.
“You’ve got a guy like LeVert, who wants the ball in his hands; and D’Lo wants the ball in his hands. It’s an adjustment,” center Ed Davis said. “But they’re two good players, and they get along. It’ll work out.”
It’s started to show some signs of working out.
Through LeVert’s first four games back from his nasty three-month long foot injury, he and Russell logged 58 minutes on the court together. The Nets were a minus-11. The duo compiled a Net Rating of minus-5.5 in every 100 possessions.
But Saturday night in Charlotte was different. Yes, LeVert’s finishing was awry. But they were a plus-3 in 26 minutes together. Their Net Rating was a plus-5.6, and their improved cohesion was a good sign.
While Russell poured in a career-high 40 points Saturday — including every Nets point in a 10-2 run to close the game — LeVert had just six on 2-of-8 shooting with three turnovers.
But he took turns guarding Kemba Walker, Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, whoever got hot at the moment. And he had a game-sealing block on Walker to clinch the victory.
“He’s valuable. He’s more valuable than just offense and he proved it. He cut the water off a little bit on when they got going on whoever it was [on Saturday],” Russell said. “He’s more valuable than that. We know his shots are going to fall and he’s going to get easy buckets and it’s going to get back. It’s part of the game.”