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D’Angelo Russell back in starting lineup for Nets

Kenny Atkinson opts for a smaller lineup against the Hornets.

The Nets' D'Angelo Russell tries to get by

The Nets' D'Angelo Russell tries to get by the Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 Photo Credit: AP / Bob Leverone

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It took five weeks and 13 games since he returned from arthroscopic knee surgery, but D’Angelo Russell finally regained his starting job when the Nets returned from the All-Star break with a 111-96 loss to the Hornets Thursday night at Spectrum Center. Coach Kenny Atkinson went with a small lineup that included Spencer Dinwiddie and Allen Crabbe on the perimeter with DeMarre Carroll shifting to power forward and Jarrett Allen at center.

“I thought we played really hard,” said Russell, who scored 19 points. “They made tough shots down the stretch. We had a few mental lapses as a team, but that’s what we’re trying to clean up.”

Russell played a little more than 32 minutes in just the second game he started together with Dinwiddie. “I think playing with Spence is great, him taking the load off my shoulders, taking the ball out of my hand or whatnot,” Russell said. “Him still playing to his strength, being able to create for others and me taking the load off his shoulders . . . I think we complement each other.”

The Nets shot only 32.6 percent from three-point range (14 of 43), and Russell and Dinwiddie were a combined 3 of 12. “I feel like we live and die by [three-pointers],” Russell said. “We’re just missing right now. I think we’ll all get back in the rhythm.”

Pair close to return

The rotation might get complicated when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (strained groin) and Caris LeVert (sprained knee) possibly return Monday. “We’re hopeful they’ll be back,” Atkinson said. “They both worked out pretty hard again this morning . . . We’ll build them up and see what that looks like. The important thing is to get there in an intelligent way. Don’t expect them to play 48 minutes.”

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