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Caris LeVert working off rust ... and minutes restrictions

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Kenny Atkinson was on the defensive the other night when because of minutes restrictions imposed by his performance team he couldn’t play Caris LeVert in overtime vs. the Thunder. LeVert had scored 20 points in 22 minutes up to that point, 16 of them in the second half.

“That’s how we work,” Kenny Atkinson said. “We were thinking about his long-term health.”

“It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, let’s win this game,’ ” Atkinson continued. “But I think you would regret it if something ever happened, so I think it’s a plan that we stick with, we make it beforehand, and we stick with it.”

Putting aside the issue of whether the Nets should have been able to win without LeVert, it was all very frustrating, particularly for the 6’7” wingman who’s looked very much like himself in the two games he’s played since returning after a seven-week layoff.

“I’m a competitor. I want to play. But I trust the coaches, I trust the staff and everything like that. There’s always another game,” LeVert said after the 111-103 loss. “It is what it is and I trust my teammates to go out there and compete to win that game.”

“Everybody knows that Caris is one of the best players on this team,” Joe Harris added. “He’s one of the better young players in this league, so anytime you can have somebody like that play, he’s obviously somebody that’s going to help out a lot.”

So what’s next? LeVert admits he has some rust to shake off.

“I feel like I’m right there, still knocking some rust off,” LeVert said. “I missed some layups, had some bad turnovers, but other than that, I feel good out there.”

Atkinson says he expects to re-insert LeVert into the starting lineup soon, but gave no timetable. He is happy with what he’s seen.

“Listen, for a guy that’s been out for as long as he’s been out, I think it was a darned good performance,” Atkinson said. “I thought he looked fresh, making the right decisions, obviously made some tough shots. We were at the rim a couple of times with him and [the Thunder] made good plays, but I liked how he played overall.

“Obviously, part of the reason we were in the game right there and had a chance to win was because of his play.”

How he and Spencer Dinwiddie will work is an issue, but less of one than how not having the two of them.

“It’s great to see Caris back out here,” said Dinwiddie, who missed both a technical and a layup in the closing seconds of regulation. “We know he’s so talented, he’s our third star, and he’s gonna continue to get better the more reps he gets. Obviously he’s phenomenal, and he’s gonna continue to help the team.”