Nets look to make Vaughn a winner in debut vs. Bulls

NBA Basketball

Caris LeVert’s hot streak has coincided with Kenny Atkinson inserting him into the starting lineup.

On Sunday afternoon, it will be Jacque Vaughn handing in the starting lineup with LeVert’s name on it as the Brooklyn Nets host the Chicago Bulls in New York.

Less than 24 hours after LeVert posted his first career triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in Friday’s 139-120 win over the San Antonio Spurs, the Nets decided to make a coaching change. Atkinson was 118-190 since general manager Sean Marks hired him in May 2016.

It is believed players had an impact on the Nets’ decision to replace Atkinson, notably stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who have yet to appear on the court together since signing in Brooklyn. On Saturday, Marks denied Irving and Durant or any other players influenced the move.

“The same way all 17 players factored into it,” Marks said Saturday afternoon.

What Marks did say was new owner Joe Tsai and the front office agreed that a change was needed and Atkinson conceded his voice was “not what it once was here.”

The Nets made their third in-season coaching change since moving to Brooklyn following the 2011-12 season. P.J. Carlesimo went 35-19 after replacing Avery Johnson in December 2012 while Tony Brown replaced Lionel Hollins in January 2016 — a month before Marks was hired — and went 11-34.

LeVert joined the Nets in a draft-night trade with the Indiana Pacers and forged a relationship with Durant early in his career. He will be playing for Vaughn — who previously coached the Orlando Magic – coming off the best week of his career and on the best run of his career.

The triple-double continued LeVert’s ascent into an elite scorer over the last month and occurred three days after he scored 51 points in Boston.

LeVert has been in the starting lineup for every game since Feb. 3 against Phoenix when he replaced Irving. LeVert is averaging 24.3 points in his last 14 games.

“I think anybody that’s been around Caris since he’s been in the league would probably tell you that he’s not surprised at all,” Brooklyn forward Joe Harris said.

Chicago has lost 12 of its last 14 games and has played its last three contests without leading scorer Zach LaVine. LaVine, who is averaging 25.5 points this season and 27.9 in his last nine games, is dealing with a strained left quadricep that could keep him sidelined for Sunday.

On Friday, the Bulls clinched their third straight losing season when they were dealt a 108-102 home loss to the Indiana Pacers. Chicago trailed by as many as 23 points and allowed an opponent to shoot at least 50 percent for the 10th time in the last 14 games.

Coby White scored 26 points in that contest. The rookie is averaging 27.7 points on 50.4 percent shooting in his last seven games.

While White is on a roll of late, the Bulls are integrating Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. back in their rotation.

On Friday, Markkanen scored three points on 1-of-10 shooting in his second game back from missing over a month with a hip injury.

Carter scored eight points in his fourth game back missing nearly two months with an ankle injury.

Porter also finished with eight in his third game back from missing nearly four months with a sprained left ankle.

“We need those guys to play and get into the game and get their sea legs back,” Chicago coach Jim Boylen said.

The Nets are 9-1 in the past 10 meetings with Chicago and shot 62.5 percent in their 133-118 home win on Jan. 31.

–Field Level Media

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