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Caris LeVert is getting there … and Nets need him to

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

A little more than two weeks after returning from his right leg injury, Caris LeVert had his best offensive outing Monday ... and gave the Nets some hope that his progress will continue as make their improbable, but now very real, playoff run.

In the Nets’ 101-85 handling of the Spurs, LeVert dropped 15 points, where despite shooting 5-of-14 from the floor, he converted an efficient 2-of-5 from three and hit all three free throw attempts.

Moreover, in his 27 minutes, LeVert also recorded seven assists, five rebounds and one block, while finishing (tied for) a team-high +14.

More importantly, perhaps, he was aggressive, scoring 12 straight points at the close of the first half.

Before the game, Kenny Atkinson said LeVert – who had come into the game averaging 9.4 points and 4.0 assists in under 24 minutes – is still looking to regain his fall form.

“I think he’s still trying to catch his rhythm,” offered Atkinson prior to tip-off. “I just think it takes time. It’s normal. I will say that he looks good physically, which is the most important thing.”

Atkinson added that LeVert has provided a lift defensively, as he did in in the team’s 117-115 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday, providing the game-winning (elbow) block on perennial All-Star Kemba Walker to save the game and showcase his return as someone the team can rely on late.

“I was worried about him being a little shy or a little timid and not moving well,” Atkinson said. “But I see that the last couple of possessions on (Hornet backup point guard Tony) Parker, he really turned up his defense. (He) got into Tony and did some really great things.

“I think the offense, it comes, but it’s going to come last. I think it’s a matter of time. I wish I could give you a time frame … we’ll keep throwing him out there,” Atkinson added.

Following the all-around performance vs. the Spurs, LeVert’s best in three months, Atkinson was encouraged by how LeVert progressed, and cited a growing chemistry with breakout star D’Angelo Russell, who torched the Spurs for 23 points, eight assists and seven boards, DLo shot 9-of-19 from the field and 5-of-11 from three.

“Very encouraging,” offered Atkinson of the combination, post-game. “I thought his (LeVert’s) drive game was good. He hit a big three when we were struggling to get a bucket. D’Angelo found him off of drives.”

Because of LeVert’s leg dislocation this season, and Russell’s arthroscopic knee surgery last, which sidelined him for two months, the two have yet to establish an in-depth rapport. (We touched on this even back in October in the early days of this season.)

“Those two, I think they’re getting their chemistry back a little,” said Atkinson. “D’Lo had most of the load before Caris came back, but I think you can see them start to come together a little bit. Both of them having good games is key for us going forward.”

LeVert himself was optimistic following the victory, not wanting to focus on himself too much, but he did insist that he’s getting a little closer to regaining the form he put forth earlier this season.

Atkinson adds that LeVert could fill the Spencer Dinwiddie role as the team’s dynamic second point guard, one who handles a great deal of responsibilities on the ball.

“Yes. Yes. We did it in Charlotte. We experimented with it in the end. It didn’t go so well but we’ve got to do it again,” said the third year head coach. “We have to harp back to when he was our backup point guard when we had all the injuries all last year and he did a fantastic job. I was thinking on my mind, ‘this guy could be a point guard in this league.’

“He took the reins at the end of the second quarter and at the end of the day, that’s where he really thrives, he thrives with the ball in his hands. He thrives in pick and roll. He can obviously play off the ball, too. But I think that’s his real comfort level, playing with the ball in his hands.”

As LeVert finds himself, the Nets continue to push forward in the playoff chase. The schedule isn’t getting any easier, which LeVert also indicated in the above video.

Dinwiddie’s return from hand surgery still has no timetable – it’s Nets protocol, after all – but he joked (we think) that it’s hopefully within Adrian Wojnarowski’s timeline which was three to six weeks.

Dinwiddie underwent surgery for torn thumb ligaments on January 28. So that would have him pegged to return anytime between now and mid-March. They’ll need all three of them.