CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Nets’ defense is real. They went right from theft to robbery, harassing and ballhawking their way to a 115-86 rout of the Hornets before a sellout crowd of 19,079 at the Spectrum Center.
The last time they faced Charlotte, they got lit up by Devonte’ Graham. But this time around Caris LeVert not only smothered the Hornets’ offensively gifted guard, but was an absolute disruptor in the passing lanes all night for what turned into a laugher.
If there was any concern of a mass malaise after the way the Nets blew their first game out of the All-Star break — leading by 20 in Philadelphia, and six with two minutes to play before falling in overtime — they put those fears to bed.
“Yeah, I think [our goal] is keep our defense, keep improving our defense. That’s a goal,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think the second part is offensively, taking care of the ball better. That’ll really help our offense if we can be a little more judicious taking care of the ball.”
LeVert had 17 points, but it was on the other end of the floor that he did most of his damage. He had six steals, a career-high and the most by a Net all season. And after Graham had eviscerated the Nets for 40 points in their last meeting — a Dec. 11 Hornets win at Barclays Center — LeVert held him to six points on 1-for-10 shooting.
The Nets (26-29) have won seven of their past 10, and five of seven. And they did it with a withering 31-15 run that included three of LeVert’s steals. Brooklyn turned Charlotte miscues into fast-break buckets, turned a nine-point lead in the third quarter into a 90-63 cushion on a LeVert bucket to open the fourth.
The rest of the final period was garbage time.
The Nets also had eight in double figures, led by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s 21. Garrett Temple added 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Jarrett Allen had 12 points and 11 boards.
“Last time we had the break you saw how we came out we were flat, just trying to keep that up and keep the defense up, something we’ve been excelling in,” Allen told The Post. “Just taking care of the ball and all the other areas we’ve been improving so that’s our No. 1 goal.”
The Nets came into Saturday eighth in the NBA in Defensive Rating, and third-best in the league since the start of December. This result just backs those kind of numbers up.
Leading 57-48, they reeled off seven unanswered points.
Taurean Prince (14 points, 4-for-8 from deep) hit a right-wing 3-pointer and another bucket to pad the lead to a dozen. And after LeVert elevated for a steal, Allen’s dunk made it 64-48. His free throw pushed it to 75-57 with 3:40 left in the third.
Temple sank a 3-pointer from the right corner 36 seconds later, and LeVert rattled one home from out past the left elbow to pad the cushion to 83-61. The run eventually reached 31-15 on LeVert’s driving layup a half-minute into the fourth quarter.