Caris LeVert and Kevin Durant were already close friends when they became Nets teammates over the summer. Their relationship dates back to 2016, when LeVert had his third operation in less than two years, when he was leaving Michigan for NB.A. Sketch, project.
Durant and LeVert suffered similar injuries – a Jones fracture – and each turned to Martin O'Malley, the Nets team doctor. Both were clients of the Roc Nation agency, and Durant turned to LeVert for words of encouragement.
It was a special moment. In high school, LeVert was known by the nickname "Baby Durant."
"He's like an older brother to me," LeVert said of Durant, who is unlikely to play this season as he recovers from an Achilles tendon tear. "He has given me some good advice over the years. At the same time, he lets me be my own man. He is a great teammate. He always tells me to enjoy every moment.
LeVert has taken Durant's advice seriously since the return of a November injury to his right thumb that caused him to lose nearly eight weeks. On Tuesday night against Oklahoma City Thunder, in just his second return game, LeVert went into the basket with confidence in the Nets, his forays into painting resulting in easy scoring opportunities for him and his teammates.
The 25-year-old bodyguard, who is coming off the bench as part of his slow reinstatement, scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and ended the night with 6 rebounds and 3 assists. At the end of the final straight, he recovered from a defeat and tried 3 points, and it looked like the Nets would secure his first win since December 21.
However, Brooklyn faltered once again, its 7-point lead in the fourth quarter vanished after several empty tightening possessions, including a pair of missed kicks by LeVert. Thunder rallied behind veteran point guard Chris Paul, and the game went into overtime. LeVert went to the bench, playing only 22 minutes – the maximum time limit imposed by his team.
The Nets won just 2 points in the extra session and fell to Thunder 111-110, pushing their losing streak to seven games. LeVert could only watch outside.
"This is how we operate," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “Thinking about your long term health and our long term plan, and sticking to that plan. It's easy to say, “Hey, let's win this game.” I think you would be sorry if something happened. "
LeVert said, "I'm a competitor. I want to play. But I trust the coaches and the team. There is always another game."
The Nets, 16-20, have just over half of their remaining season and maybe more if they can stay in position for an Eastern Conference playoff. They are in eighth place with 46 games to go and with no clear return date for their best player, Kyrie Irving, who has been out since November with a bruised shoulder. The teams just below the Nets in the standings – the Charlotte Hornets and the Detroit Pistons – also have problems to solve.
"There is no pressure," said LeVert. “I have so much fun playing the game. It's always boring to get hurt, but coming back just gives me a lot of joy. I feel like I'm exactly where I used to be – it's about removing some of the rust. "
LeVert's significant injury history led him to fall for the Nets as the 20th overall in the 2016 draft, three months after a foot operation. Injuries have plagued him ever since. He shifted his right foot in November 2018, in what looked like a horrible end to the season, but returned three months later. In the last two seasons, LeVert has lost 67 combined games.
When healthy, though, LeVert makes a difference because he can create his own shot, defend at the perimeter, and facilitate an attack – especially with the often anemic second unit. He performed breakthrough in the first round of the playoffs last season against the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 21 points out of 49.3%.
LeVert, who signed a $ 52.5 million three-year extension with Nets starting next season, averaged 16.8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game this season before injuring himself again.
LeVert said his thumb was really bothering him since he "hit the training ground" before the start of last season. He threw the pain before the disaster on November 10 in Phoenix, where he stuck his thumb in a cut in the back.
Initially, the injury was diagnosed as a sprain, but an X-ray and an MRI scan revealed ligament damage. LeVert had its operation on November 14 and was expected to lose four to six weeks. He returned last Saturday, scoring 13 points in 16 minutes against the Toronto Raptors, and played his next game against Orlando Magic on Monday for injury maintenance.
His scoring skills were greatly lost during his 24-game absence between November and this month. The Nets was 12-12 but rated only 26th in offensive efficiency during this period, averaging only 104.9 points per 100 possessions. On the other hand, the top 10 teams had an average of at least 110.0 points per 100 possessions.
Nets' offensive fights also stemmed from the absence of Irving, who has not played since November 14. Irving received a cortisone injection into the injured shoulder on December 24 and may need a potentially late-season operation, depending on how the shoulder responds to treatment. The Nets faced strong criticism during their recent slippage for not being transparent about Irving's injury status.
Irving's place in the starting lineup went to Spencer Dinwiddie, who averaged 24.8 points and 6.9 assists in his place. But Dinwiddie has been struggling with his shooting lately, and his supporting cast has been largely ineffective. Since Irving fell, the Nets have shot 31.5% of the worst league in the three-point territory.
"Our offense is not where it needs to be," Atkinson said on Tuesday. "And it is my job to find a solution.
LeVert remains confident that the beleaguered and depleted Nets can fix their ship.
"I believe all the guys in this locker room and I feel we can change that," LeVert said. "We've been in the last two games. I think it's just believing. The mindset is, 'Let's not lose this game,' rather than 'Let's win this game.' That's a huge thing for me. good. "
And as Durant always encourages, LeVert is trying to seize the moment instead of looking at what the team might be next season when Durant and Irving are expected to be totally healthy.
"I'm stuck in the present now," said LeVert. "This is going to be really exciting. But I'm just trying to help the team the way I can."