LeVert returns for Nets against new-look Bulls

When an injured player returns from a lengthy absence, teams often look at it as adding a player via a trade-deadline acquisition.

For the Brooklyn Nets, that player is Caris LeVert.

LeVert will return from missing nearly three months with a right foot injury Friday night when the Nets host the Chicago Bulls.

LeVert was leading the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game when he was hurt trying to stop a layup in the final seconds on Nov. 12 in Minnesota. The injury appeared to be a fractured foot, but after being reevaluated, LeVert was diagnosed with a dislocated foot and only moderate ligament damage, avoiding surgery.

The Nets (29-27) went 23-19 in the 42 games LeVert missed, but it was a tale of two stretches. They lost 10 of the first 12 games he sat out -- with six coming by single digits -- but starting with a one-point overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 7, the Nets are 21-9 in their last 30 games.

"However I can help," LeVert said earlier this week at practice of his expectations. "They've got it going right now and playing really well offensively and defensively. I'm just looking to be another one of those guys who gives us more depth, plays hard defensively and tries to make plays on offense."

The news that LeVert is returning was revealed at practice about two hours before the trade deadline, before which Brooklyn reportedly acquired Greg Monroe from Toronto with the intent to waive the big man. The Nets ultimately didn't add a player, but they were excited to get back LeVert, who was shooting 47.5 percent and had seven games with at least 20 points before the injury.

LeVert was out of his walking boot a few weeks ago, and earlier this week he began practicing with Brooklyn's G-League team. On Thursday, he told coach Kenny Atkinson he was ready.

Like many players returning from an injury, LeVert will be on a minutes limit and likely will come off the bench.

"My feeling is let's just build him up from a physical standpoint," Atkinson said. "From a basketball technical standpoint, I think it's going to take some time quite honestly until he catches his rhythm. I can't tell you how long that's going to be. The most important thing is he's right physically, and we'll build up the basketball part."

LeVert will be returning two days after the Nets surpassed last year's win total with a 135-130 win over the Denver Nuggets to improve to 14-2 in their last 16 home games. D'Angelo Russell totaled 27 points and 11 assists for his sixth double-double, while the Nets shot a season-high 55.9 percent (19 of 34) from 3-point range and handed out a season-high 36 assists.

That came after the Nets lost their previous three games and shot 5 of 42 from 3-point range Monday night in a blowout loss to Milwaukee.

Chicago will be making its second trip to Brooklyn in the last two weeks but with a slightly changed roster. In its 122-117 loss on Jan. 29, Jabari Parker scored 22 points, but he was traded with Bobby Portis to Washington for Otto Porter Jr. on Wednesday.

Porter signed an offer sheet with the Nets in July 2017 that was matched by the Wizards. This season, he averaged 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in 41 games with Washington, and he is expected to play Friday.

"He can defend multiple positions and he's a proven scorer," Bulls guard Zach LaVine said at practice Thursday of Porter. "He's definitely someone who can come out here and help us. I'm excited. He's a professional scorer."

Porter will be joining a frontline that includes Lauri Markkanen, who totaled 18 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in the last meeting with the Nets.

Markkanen also is coming off consecutive 30-point showings. He scored 30 on 8-of-13 shooting in Saturday's 125-118 loss in Charlotte and shot 10-of-19 in Wednesday's 125-120 home loss to New Orleans.

The Bulls are 2-16 in their last 18 games, though their last five defeats were all by seven points or fewer.

"Everybody's gotta step up," Markkanen said. "I thought the guys that played, they played well. We just adjust. Change is always tough, but next man up. It's not the first time. I can't say too much about it."

LaVine scored 28 points Wednesday but did not practice Thursday due to ankle soreness. He is listed as probable for Friday.

The Nets have won six straight from the Bulls. Their longest winning streak over Chicago is eight games from Dec. 23, 2003-Nov. 5, 2005.

--Field Level Media

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In his first game in a Bulls uniform, Otto Porter Jr. scores 18 points in a 125-106 win over the Nets.
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