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Bulls spoil LeVert’s return as Nets get blown out at home, 125-106

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The return of Caris LeVert was spoiled Friday night with a loss to the 13-win Chicago Bulls. They handled the Nets in Brooklyn, 125-106. It was LeVert’s big return, but the Nets put themselves in a hole early that they couldn’t dig their way out of.

“I don’t want to make it about me because I wish we would have won the game for sure, but that’s expected,” LeVert said after the game. “We didn’t come back to just be there. We wanted to be better than before.”

As a result, they fell to 29-28 on the season — a disappointing loss after beating the top-tier Denver Nuggets two days earlier. The Nets have now lost four of their last five. The Bulls, meanwhile, sit near the basement of the NBA standings but the proved they know how to play the spoiler role.

Chicago controlled the tempo right from the start, dropping 32 points in the first quarter and taking a seven-point lead into the half. It only got worse in the third, as Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine propelled Chicago to take a 13-point lead entering the third, 16-point lead early in the fourth.

The Nets didn’t quit. Caris LeVert and Joe Harris scored 11 points and went on an 11-2 run to bring the Nets within nine with a little under six minutes left, but they couldn’t come up with stops when they needed them most. Markkanen nailed a three and then newly acquired Otto Porter Jr. hit a dagger three to put Chicago up 12 with 4:30 left.

There was no fight left.

Markkanen and LaVine combined for 57 points on 21-of-35 shooting. The Bulls shot lights out as a team, hitting 54 percent from the field, 50 percent from three and 78 percent from the free throw line.

The Nets didn’t come up with stops nor did they shoot the ball all too well. They shot just 41.5 percent from the field and 13-of-41 (32 percent) from three after hitting 19 three-pointers on Wednesday night.

D’Angelo Russell was the leading scorer with 23 points but shot just 8-of-21 from the field. Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe each chipped in 19 apiece.

The biggest positive and perhaps the only thing that really matters from all of this is that LeVert played very well. He finished with 11 points, four assists and five steals in 15 minutes. He nabbed a career-high-tying and Nets season-high five steals. The last Net to record five steals in a game off the bench? LeVert in 2017.

“It almost didn’t feel real,” LeVert said after the game. “It went by kind of fast for me honestly, and even leading up to today’s game it just felt that three months went by kind of fast.”

He was spry and attacked the hole with no hesitation. His defense was as stellar as ever with his lanky wingspan and low defensive slides making it hard for defenders to get a pass by him.

“If I had to take one positive from tonight that was a positive,” Atkinson said about LeVert’s play. “I thought he looked good, looked athletic, came downhill like he does, make some passes.”

That in itself is a win for the Nets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show up in the standings.

Post-game audio here.

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CARIS LEVERT IS BACK!

In what felt like a miracle, Caris LeVert returned to action on Friday after missing the last two months with a dislocated foot. The injury looked as bad as could be, one everybody thought would keep him out longer than expected.

He approached head coach Kenny Atkinson and told him, “I’m ready.”

And here we are. Caris LeVert is back. It’s going to take time to integrate him back, but you can be sure he’s going to do everything in his power to find normalcy. He checked out after playing a little more than six minutes in the second quarter.

“I was kind of tired the first little stint I played, the first six minutes, but after that I kind of settled into the game and got more comfortable,” he said after the game.

Then, following halftime, he helped bring the Nets within three after trailing by eight.

“I prepared for it. We put a lot of time in over the last couple of months so it was kind of expected for me. I don’t want to make it about me because I wish we would have won the game for sure, but that’s expected. We didn’t come back to just be there. We wanted to be better than before.”

Here were my thoughts when it happened.

PLAYOFF RACE

The Nets entered Friday’s game with a two-game advantage over the seven-seed Charlotte Hornets and 3 12 games ahead of the nine-seed Pistons. The good news? None of those teams made significant deals although Detroit signaled they’re not giving up on the playoff hopes by making a couple of smaller deals.

By night’s end, the Nets were still the six seed, a game and a half ahead of the seven seed and two games ahead of the eight seed. The Nets are two and a half games ahead of the Pistons, but only one back in the loss column.

PUT THE TRADE MACHINE DOWN!

The Trade Deadline is officially OVER and all the Nets stayed put. Sean Marks didn’t feel the need to give up any assets while the team is young and exceeding expectations. We know well enough by now that Marks and the Nets value continuity. Why fix what isn’t broken?

He did, however, acquire a second-round pick for cash considerations.

Moreover, if you look at Marks’ past as Nets’ GM, he hasn’t made any significant Deadline moves. Here’s the list:

  • Cash considerations for K.J. McDaniels (2017)
  • Rashad Vaughn and Jeremy Lin’s disabled player exception for Dante Cunningham (2018)
  • Cash considerations for Greg Monroe and a 2nd round pick (2019)

They did trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough for the Wizards 22nd pick (Jarrett Allen) and Andrew Nicholson the day before the deadline in 2017.

Look out for the buyout market where the Nets will still have plenty of intriguing players to make an offer to.

DLO TEAMS UP WITH GIANNIS

Giannis and LeBron picked their All-Star teams on Thursday, and DLo was taken quite early for somebody chosen as a replacement player. The Greek Freak took the lefty assassin with the fifth pick.

Never forget...

For a different perspective, head on over to Blog-a-Bull, our sister site on SB Nation.

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Next up: The Nets will head to Toronto on Monday for a 7:30 game.