Nets’ reinforcements are here with staggered, uplifting returns

It shouldn’t be long before Nets fans feel better about the team’s feel-good season resuming.

The Nets (28-27), who remain in playoff position but have lost four of their past five games following Spencer Dinwiddie’s thumb surgery, returned long-injured Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe to practice with the franchise’s G-League team Tuesday.

The shorthanded squad plans to have Crabbe back in the lineup for Wednesday’s home game against the Nuggets and will wait to see how LeVert responds physically to Tuesday’s practice before setting a timeline for his return.

“He’s been out longer,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of LeVert. “Today was very positive. I don’t want to make that projection yet.”

LeVert had been the team’s breakout star to start the season — averaging a then-team-high 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists — but has been sidelined since Nov. 12, when he suffered a horrific-looking subtalar dislocation of his right foot that was feared could cost him the rest of the season.

Instead, the 24-year-old likely will soon swoop in when the Nets need him most. They have struggled offensively without Dinwiddie, who emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in LeVert’s absence. The Nets were 6-7 when LeVert went down and proceeded to lose 10 of their next 12 games before stunningly morphing into the league’s hottest team.

Atkinson isn’t prepared to see the same player when LeVert initially returns, and plans to limit his and Crabbe’s minutes initially.

“I don’t know. That’s a big ask. Let’s just build him up from a physical standpoint,” Atkinson said of LeVert. “From a basketball standpoint, it’s gonna take some time until he catches his rhythm. I don’t know how long that’s gonna be.

“The guy was playing like an All-Star to me before he went out, so of course that’s our goal, to get him back to that level. We’ll see how long that takes. With Caris, I wouldn’t bet against him.”

LeVert was a lottery-level talent at Michigan, but he broke his left foot twice in college and underwent surgery on the injury, dropping him to 20th overall in the 2016 draft.

“With the college injury, I was never hesitant [coming back],” LeVert said. “This time has been more of the same.”

Crabbe, 26, has been out since Dec. 12 with a sore right knee. The 6-foot-6 wing, who was acquired by the Nets in July 2017, had struggled in his second season in Brooklyn, shooting a career-worst 34.3 percent from the field, while averaging 9.5 points, equaling his lowest mark in four years.

Crabbe still excelled from outside, hitting 38.7 percent on 3s. The Nets’ recent shooting struggles were highlighted Monday, when they went 5-of-42 from 3 against the Bucks.

“It feels great. Been a long time coming,” Crabbe said. “Been watching the team’s success and can’t wait to be a part of it.”

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