Nets finally have their health, but now the real challenge begins


The Nets are the healthiest they have been all year as they head into the final 22 games of the season.

And yet, they are now left with one of their biggest challenges: Trying to figure out how they all fit together.

“We just need time, but we’re pressed for time,” coach Kenny Atkinson said Friday before the Nets flew to Charlotte, N.C., for Saturday’s game. “I think part of getting healthy again is just getting that chemistry and getting our lineups right. That’s where we’re a little — confused is the wrong word, but we’re trying to figure it out what the best thing is and who’s getting the minutes and all that. It’s almost like another new season for us with all our returning players.”

Spencer Dinwiddie (thumb) is the only regular left on the injury report, as the Nets have gotten Caris LeVert, Allen Crabbe and Jared Dudley back on the court in recent games. The reinforcements have not paid immediate dividends, though, as the Nets are stuck in a 2-6 skid that started before the All-Star break and continued with Thursday’s home loss to the Trail Blazers.

Not long ago, the Nets (30-30) were one of the hottest teams in the NBA, surging into a playoff spot while having players step up and thrive despite the beat-up roster. They are still in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but as of Friday afternoon, they led the seventh-place Hornets by one game (Charlotte beat the Wizards, 123-110, on Friday night), giving Saturday’s meeting more importance. The difference between sixth place and 10th place was only three games, with the race tightening by the day.

“We gotta make up ground,” Atkinson said.

Figuring out how to get LeVert and D’Angelo Russell playing at a high level together may go a long way toward achieving that goal. LeVert was putting together a breakout season before dislocating his foot in November, but Russell began to thrive in his absence.

“And they were great when they played together earlier,” Atkinson said. “That’s one of the things I loved about Caris, they had great chemistry. So just getting that chemistry back, that’s part of it. It just doesn’t happen in practice. We need more games.

“The issue there is our runway isn’t as long. We don’t have a 60-game runway to say, ‘Oh man, let’s figure this out.’ ”

In four games since returning, LeVert is shooting 36.2 percent and just 3-for-15 from 3-point range, averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 assists.

“I think he needs one really good game, one of those authentic Caris LeVert games,” Atkinson said.

The other area of emphasis for the Nets is figuring out their power forward spot, where Treveon Graham, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jared Dudley were ineffective Thursday night. They combined to shoot 1-for-10 from the field, and the Nets were outrebounded 60-49.

“Everybody has their strengths,” Atkinson said. “There’s offensive strength, there’s defensive strength, it’s just up to us to figure it out. We’ve got a lot of good players. Like I said [Thursday], we got a lot of different ways. I think right now it’s going to be game-to-game and matchup-to-matchup. We’ll figure it out.”

But that’s the Nets’ conundrum — they’re trying to figure it out on the fly during their final 22 games, with each one of growing significance as they try to secure their playoff spot.

“These games are going to be real important, starting with [Thursday],” Graham said. “We let that one go, but I feel like, again, once everybody gets back rolling from the All-Star break I think we’ll be fine. These are definitely winnable games that we can go in there and get. Hopefully everybody’s on track and ready to go.”