INDIANAPOLIS — Caris LeVert can say all the right things about how it doesn’t matter whether he starts or comes off the bench, but his red-hot performance since returning to the starting lineup three games ago says it matters a lot.
It says it will be hard to send him back to the bench even when Kyrie Irving’s return crowds the Nets’ backcourt.
“[LeVert’s] one of the best players in the league. He’s our third star, one of the best iso players in the league,” said Spencer Dinwiddie, the man who could find himself demoted to the bench to make way for LeVert whenever Irving comes back.
It’s hard to picture LeVert not starting with the tear he’s on.
LeVert has put together the best three-game stretch of his career, averaging 29.7 points and 6.3 assists, shooting 11 of 16 from deep and a perfect 18 of 18 from the free-throw line.
“I said it when he wasn’t playing well that he’s going to catch his rhythm. He caught his rhythm and he’s doing it consistently game-after-game,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “That’s the All-Star Caris we saw at the beginning of last year and then in the playoffs. Great to see, great news for the Nets.”
LeVert backed up a plus-43 performance Wednesday against the Warriors — the best plus-minus for a Net in the last 20 years — with an even better encore in Saturday’s loss in Toronto. His career-high 37 points tied the most the defending champs had allowed at home all season.
Next up is Indiana on Monday and then a home rematch with the Raptors on Wednesday before heading into the All-Star break.
“We’re not really into moral victories, I’d much rather have just played OK and got the win. Obviously this is a big stretch for us, playing Toronto twice and Indiana once,” LeVert said. “I would’ve rather had the win, [but] its always good to play well — especially on the road.”
LeVert averaged a modest 11.1 points in 22.7 minutes coming off the bench this season, but it wasn’t just limited playing time because he shot just 34.4 percent overall and 32.7 percent from behind the arc.
He’s been on another level in his 12 games as a starter, the first nine coming before his thumb injury. He’s averaging 20 points and shooting 46.2 percent from deep, even posting a plus-63.
“I’m not sure [why]. I try to play with the same confidence whether I’m starting or coming off the bench. Obviously I’ve played better starting for whatever reason,” LeVert said. “Like I said, I try to play with the same confidence, the same motor either way.”
LeVert has meshed well with Dinwiddie, but Irving’s return is looming. Irving has been ruled out Monday, but not yet for Wednesday versus Toronto.
Whenever Irving eventually returns, Atkinson could slide LeVert or Dinwiddie back into the sixth-man role. Or he could try starting all three, with LeVert at small forward and Joe Harris coming off the bench.