Caris LeVert scores 13 in return, but Nets drop 5th straight

NEW YORK -- The Brooklyn Nets are sliding.

After holding a 16-point first-half lead, the Nets lost to the Toronto Raptors 121-102 on Saturday night at Barclays Center. It was Brooklyn's fifth consecutive loss and sixth in its past seven games. Brooklyn's overall record fell to 16-18.

On Saturday, the Nets were competitive through most of the game but crumbled in the fourth quarter, giving up 38 points in the final period.

"These things happen," Joe Harris said of the slump. "You stick with the process, you stay level-headed and you trust in the process that we are going to figure it out and get it back on track."

The loss put a damper on the long-awaited return of guard Caris LeVert, who underwent surgery on his right thumb in mid-November. LeVert finished with 13 points in just under 16 minutes, and said that once he was on the floor, he didn't think about the thumb very much.

"Obviously we wanted to win," LeVert said. "But just me personally, I feel pretty good."

Now Brooklyn must pick up the pieces. LeVert's return means the Nets are as close to healthy as they've been since their October big-free-agency-summer honeymoon phase.

From November until early January, the Nets scrambled to fill in injury holes. Guard Kyrie Irving has been sidelined since Nov. 14 with a shoulder injury and doesn't seem to be close to returning to the floor. On Saturday, Irving spoke with reporters for the first time in nearly two months and did not give any indication that he is nearing a return.

Forward Kevin Durant is out for the season. LeVert missed seven weeks. Brooklyn was without forward Wilson Chandler (suspension) for 25 games. Its lineup seemed to change with the weather.

So the Nets filled in the gaps. Guard Spencer Dinwiddie moved into the starting lineup and thrived. In Dinwiddie's second-unit absence, David Nwaba took on a larger role with that bench group. The Nets signed Iman Shumpert as part of their lineup triage.

Faced with a roster capacity conundrum as Chandler inched toward his return, the Nets waived Shumpert. But then the injury bug bit again. Nwaba tore his Achilles tendon and was waived. Garrett Temple missed a game with a sore knee. The once impressively resilient Nets started to skid.

The Nets still have adjustments to make that could give them more firepower and help them seal a victory. Against the Raptors, LeVert was on an undisclosed minutes restriction. Coach Kenny Atkinson said that he gave no thought to keeping LeVert in past that limit, even though the Nets were entangled in a close contest. Before his injury, LeVert was a starter, and Atkinson will likely move him back into that primary group eventually.

"When I first started this job," Atkinson said, "We had 20 wins and were the worst team in the league, so we've been through the losing streaks. This will test us, test our character. I have enough confidence in the team. We have to stick with our habits and our principles and trust what we do and we'll get out of this."