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D’Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen a promising combination for Nets

Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell looks on against

Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell looks on against the Toronto Raptors during an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

ORLANDO, Fla. — Progress for the Nets has been painstaking over the past two seasons, but every now and then, there are flashes of growth. If there was one aspect of the Nets’ play in their 111-104 win over the Magic Wednesday night at Amway Center that showed promise, it was the budding pick-and-roll combination of point guard D’Angelo Russell connecting with rookie center Jarrett Allen.

The real “magic” on the floor was the sleight-of-hand artistry Russell displayed while delivering a series of improbable passes through small windows to Allen and several other Nets. Allen scored 15 points, hooting 6-for-9, and Russell scored 16 points, shooting 5-for-9, and delivered 12 assists with only two turnovers.

No one understands better than Allen how creative Russell can be in finding him in tight spaces in the paint.

“It’s amazing,” Allen said with real wonder in his voice. “It’s like, ‘Man, how did the ball get there?’ It just ends up in your hands. He’s an amazing passer.

“Me and ‘DLo,’ we actually talk quite a bit about how to make the pick-and-roll work. He gives me tips on how to get myself open and get him open. This was a display of what we’ve been talking about.”

Having just returned to the starting lineup since the All-Star break after a 10-week recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery and a stretch of games coming off the bench, Russell is focusing on his consistency. Rather than take too much delight in his 12-assist game, lh ooked ahead to the Nets’ next game against the Heat Saturday night at American Airlines Arena.

“If I go do that against Miami, I’m going to have a different response,” Russell said. “It’s all about consistency right now . . . My vision has always been my blessing, but when it’s not working, it’s a turnover and you get [criticized] for that. As many times as I can make the right play, the simple play and limit my turnovers, it’s all fun for that part.”

Russell laughed when asked if he warns teammates to watch out for the ball. “Yeah, I don’t want to hit anybody in the face,” he said. “But I try to get guys the ball when the defender is least expecting it.”

That’s what he did repeatedly with Allen coming out to the top of the key to set a pick and then rolling to the rim while Russell drew the defense and dished for point-blank baskets. Eventually, Russell might help make Allen one of the most efficient offensive big men in the league.

Describing Allen’s potential, Russell said, “He’s the prototype ‘big’ the way the league is going with guys that can run and set screens and defend at the same time. He has every tool. It’s going to be real scary down the road for him. I don’t think he knows how good he is yet. But we see it. We’re struggling, but we see how good he’s going to be.”

From a coach’s perspective, Kenny Atkinson looks forward to Russell and Allen bringing the best out of each other down the road.

“It’s the quarterback throwing to the tight end,” Atkinson said after practice Thursday at University of Central Florida. “That connection is vital. You think about combinations like Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler, Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire.

“You’ve got to have that partner in the pick-and-roll. That was our vision of Jarrett that he was going to be our roller to the rim to suck the defense in, and you need a distributor to get it to him. Caris [LeVert] and him had a great connection, and now, D’Angelo is starting to play more with Jarrett because they’re in that starting unit and they’re starting to get a good chemistry.”

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