On Sunday, Caris LeVert dazzled down the stretch and the Brooklyn Nets pulled out a crucial win over a similar opponent in the Eastern Conference.
The level of competition will start to increase as LeVert and the Nets face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday afternoon near Orlando.
The Nets (31-35) currently hold eighth place in the East and sit one half-game behind the Orlando Magic (32-35).
Thanks to LeVert, Brooklyn was able to move further ahead of the ninth-place Washington Wizards and closer to ensuring the teams would not need a play-in game due to being separated by four games or less.
In a 118-110 win over Washington, LeVert scored 34 points on 11-of-25 shooting. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and helped the Nets end the game by outscoring Washington 18-10 in the final five-plus minutes.
"That was my favorite show to watch -- watching Caris LeVert go to work, seeing how far he's come, just being able to play 1-on-1," Nets center Jarrett Allen said. "He was calling me, saying 'J.A., I don't want the screen.' And I respected that. He didn't want the screen and they couldn't stop him."
LeVert's big game was his fourth career 30-point game, which have all been since he returned in January from missing nearly two months due to thumb surgery. It also continued his ascension before the league was paused for over four-plus months on March 11 due to the coronavirus.
Before the stoppage, LeVert was averaging 27.4 points in his last five games and that includes a career-high 51 points against Boston, which the Nets face Wednesday.
"He's really taken another level to his game of studying the game, appreciating that he has the ability to get where he wants to," Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. "And the most important thing is the young man puts in the work."
LeVert's big game occurred after the Nets had a dud in their opener, when they trailed by as many as 30 points in Friday's 128-118 loss to Orlando.
While the Nets are trying to do enough to avoid the play-in game, Milwaukee (54-13) is closing in on securing the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks missed a chance at securing the top seed on Sunday when they committed 22 turnovers and were unable to execute down the stretch in a 120-116 loss to Houston. Milwaukee held an eight-point lead but wound up getting outscored 16-4 over the final 3:14 to fall for the fifth time in seven games going back to March 1.
Antetokounmpo totaled 36 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists, giving him 15 30-15-5 games this season. Khris Middleton added 27 and former Net Brook Lopez contributed 23 in a game Milwaukee loss despite outrebounding Houston 65-36.
It also was a rare close game for the Bucks, whose average margin of victory this season is 15.9.
"Obviously, it's really nice, amazing to beat teams by 10, by 20, by 30, but at the end of the day, I feel like we learned," Antetokounmpo said. "It's good to play close games. We don't play a lot of close games the other 65 games that we played, so we got to keep learning, we've got to keep executing at the end of the game."
Milwaukee is 16-3 in the past 19 meetings with Brooklyn. Antetokounmpo totaled 29 points and 12 rebounds when Milwaukee shot nearly 51 percent, hit 17 3-point shots and cruised to a 117-97 win in Brooklyn on Jan. 18.
--Field Level Media