BROOKLYN — Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said he wanted the ball in rookie guard Caris LeVert’s hands down the stretch of Brooklyn’s 109-106 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
Atkinson subbed in LeVert with around 6:54 remaining in the fourth quarter — the same point in the final period a coach would turn to his closer. He did not record a field goal and turned the ball over on a play that led to a Heat three-pointer to tie the game at 99-99.
But when a play ran for Brook Lopez broke down and the Nets offense stifled, LeVert attacked the rim and got to the free throw line, earning the encouragement of his teammates. He nailed both, giving his team a short-lived two-point lead.
Atkinson responded with a resounding “yes,” when asked if he wanted the ball in his LeVert’s hands down the stretch. The rookie guard found a positive in the loss, happy to have earned his coach’s trust late in the game.
“I’m a young guy, so to get that kind of trust from the coach is big,” LeVert told reporters after the game. “I’ve gotta be better with that turnover down the stretch.”
Despite his late-game woes, LeVert posted 14 points (4-for-8 shooting) and four assists in 26 minutes on the floor, his only turnover coming as a costly bad pass in the fourth quarter. He hit Heat wing Wayne Ellington with a step-back move that sent him tumbling to the floor.
LeVert is averaging 7.1 points per game on the season and did not earn a nod to the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge for rookies and sophomores, but Brooklyn’s 22-year-old guard had emerged as a primary ball-handler for Nets as of late.
He averaging 13 points and 4.5 assists on .692 shooting from the field and .462 shooting from downtown in his last four games.
“I think like right now, I feel like he’s a darn good pick-and-roll player,” Atkinson told reporters after the game. “He did some good things and he made some young mistakes. There’s gotta be a balance between getting [Brook Lopez] the ball in the post and playing pick-and-roll. We felt like we liked the matchup, we like him with the ball in pick-and-roll.”
Lopez on fire
Brook Lopez made a career-high seven of his 14 three-point attempts on his way to a 33-point game against Miami on Wednesday. Lopez credited his teammates for getting him the ball for open looks, but Atkinson said he wants to get his All-Star center in better positions to score.
Lopez scored 26 of his 33 points and made six of his seven triples in the first half. He shot just 2-for-8 from the field 1-for-5 from downtown in the last two quarters. Atkinson said it’s on the coaching staff to get their center better looks.
“We’re a mixture of post-ups and pick-and-roll and little screens. Sometimes we stop the play to get Brook the ball. And sometimes we go overboard,” he said. “Brook is gonna get the ball, and I think if we keep moving it and keep playing — I think we need to do a better job, and that’s me included, of finding the right balance where he’s receiving the ball in a good place.”
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