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Caris LeVert, Nets kick off trade deadline week with a 119-97 win over Phoenix

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Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Following Saturday’s excruciating late-game loss to Washington —which also saw Kyrie Irving sprain his knee— the Nets entered Monday’s matchup with Phoenix in definite need of some good news ... and they got it.

Final score Nets 119, Suns 97. It turned out to be a convincing home win for Brooklyn and in fact, their most lopsided victory of the season tying their 22-point win vs. the Hawks two weeks ago.

Caris LeVert returning to last season’s form proved to be exactly what the Nets needed, too. With Irving sidelined for at least a week, LeVert was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time since November.

Encouragingly for the Nets, he contributed one of the best performances of his career, finishing with a career high-tying 29 points shooting 10-of-20. He also put up a great defensive effort against Devin Booker, who was held to 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting.

“It was huge for us. We came out played a great game,” LeVert told Michael Grady post-game. The key? “Defense: They had 97 points.

“I’ve been struggling a little, so it was good to have one of these games.”

Later, he added that the game had indeed been a confidence-builder.

“I just felt like I was aggressive,” LeVert said. “Playing a lot of minutes, especially playing with the ball in my hands, it gave me a lot of rhythm tonight. My teammates gave me a lot of looks tonight, so it was easy to go out there and compete.”

Things started out slowly. The first half was a tight, back-and-forth affair throughout with neither team able to put much separation between them and their opponent. The Nets went into the break with a 55-52 lead.

The third quarter was where the game was ultimately decided. Behind a 35-21 third quarter — which included a 22-4 Brooklyn extended run — Brooklyn pulled away from Phoenix and posted their 22nd win in 49 games.

Both teams had their starters playing deep into the fourth, Phoenix, on the back end of a back-to-back, simply wasn’t able to cut into the Nets’ lead.

Brooklyn’s three-point shooting was a difference maker as the Nets knocked down 15-threes at an impressive 44.1 percent clip, led by Taurean Prince (3-of-6) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (3-of-4).

LeVert’s trademark shiftiness was out in full force against Phoenix, but more controlled. For the first time in months, including 24 games rehabbing from thumb ligament surgery, LeVert displayed the confidence and touch in the mid-range that has allowed him to have his way with defenders.

Kenny Atkinson said post-game that with Irving out, LeVert will have to pick up the pace.

“Yes he’ll have to play more minutes and we have to push that; I have to push it personally,” Atkinson said. “We all know how good a player Caris is. So, yes, he’ll be playing more minutes; he’ll be playing backup point-guard minutes.

“Like I said, to me it’s just a matter of time until he gets his rhythm back. I know he’s trying. But this could help kick-start him a little if he definitely could get more minutes.”

LeVert was the engine is Brooklyn’s attack, registering the game-high and career-high 29-points to go along with 7-assists, 3-rebounds, and 2-steals. LeVert also finally put his defensive tools to work, making things even more difficult for Booker, still irked by his All-Star snub.

The Nets as a team threw multiple defenders at Booker, but it was LeVert who opened the game on Booker and covered him for most of their overlapping minutes. His lack of efficiency proved a major key to the win.

In addition to LeVert, Harris (16-points), Prince (14-points), Spencer Dinwiddie (14-points), and Luwawu-Cabarrot (13-points) were vital in the win. Jarrett Allen continued his shot-blocking string. With two blocks vs. Phoenix, Allen now has 22 blocks in his last nine games.

HARRIS WILL DEFEND HIS 3-POINT SHOOTING CROWN AT ALL-STAR GAME

Two trips to China and one to Tanzania over a two-month period last summer may have left Joe Harris fatigued but he’s got one more trip planned. Harris has decided to defend his 3-point shooting crown at the All-Star Game in Chicago.

After a poor January in which he shot a mere 31.2 percent, Harris has picked it up during the first two games of February, hitting 6-of-11 Saturday and 2-of-5 tonight.

LUWAWU-CABARROT BACK TO LONG ISLAND?

Monday’s game was the last of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot on his second and final 10-day contract. He’ll now return to the Long Island Nets and wait. TLC’s departure will give the Nets an open roster spot for Thursday’s deadline .... and possibly the March 1 buyout deadline. If the Nets still have a roster spot, expect them to re-sign Luwawu-Cabarrot to a standard contract,

After shooting 3-of-4 from deep Monday, TLC is shooting 71.4 percent from three in his last seven games, 10-of-14. For the season, he’s now shooting 43.1%, second on the team to Rodions Kurucs who’s shooting 47.9 percent. Joe Harris shooting 40.5%.

Luwawu-Cabarrot said the Suns game —13 points, three rebounds and a block— may have been his best of the season.

“Definitely, we came out and won. That’s the most important. Whenever I come out and play hard and we win, I’m happy.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Nets (22-27) will be back in action on Wednesday when they welcome former Net and fan favorite D’Angelo Russell back to Brooklyn for a highly anticipated matchup with the Warriors ... if he plays. With trade rumors flying, the Warriors held him out of Monday’s game with the Wizards.

It will be the Nets final game before Thursday’s trade deadline.