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Nets anxiously await D’Angelo Russell’s return

Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell, left, and forward

Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell, left, and forward DeMarre Carroll look on from the bench during an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets conducted a short team practice Tuesday at the HSS Training Center. D’Angelo Russell wasn’t involved. He’s out for Wednesday night’s game against the Spurs at Barclays Center.

The waiting game continues.

Kenny Atkinson said Russell felt good in the wake of Monday’s full practice with the Long Island Nets, and that he will do some simulated play after shootaround Wednesday. But the 21-year-old guard will miss his 32nd game since hurting his left knee against Utah on Nov. 11. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body six days later.

“I will say we’re getting closer,” Atkinson said. “He’s had some good practices with the G League team.”

The Nets have dropped to 16-28 after losing five of their last six. Atkinson said he “got on them pretty good” during Tuesday’s video session after seeing their execution levels dip in Monday’s 119-104 loss to the Knicks, especially defensively in the fourth quarter.

Russell got hit with a bench technical in his street clothes during the third. It sure couldn’t hurt to have him back in his playing clothes. He’s still the team’s leading scorer, averaging 20.9 points over his 12 games. He’s also averaging 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Brooklyn is 11-20 since he went down.

“He’s a heck of a player, heck of a talent,” DeMarre Carroll said. “We’ve got to try to ease him back, not try to throw him back at once. But at the end of the day, he’s definitely a plus.”

Spencer Dinwiddie has been a plus since replacing Russell at the point and is averaging 14.5 points and 6.8 assists in 33 starts overall. Caris LeVert has done well behind Dinwiddie. So Russell’s re-emergence will give the Nets three big point guards, although the 6-5 Russell and the 6-7 LeVert have experience off the ball and the 6-6 Dinwiddie can defend against shooting guards.

“That’s a good problem to have,” Atkinson said. “You’ve got three guys who can really handle the ball, play pick and roll. We can play them together. We can stagger them . . . It’s like signing another good player, almost. That can only help our team.”

The game plan is indeed to build up Russell’s playing time.

“We’ll have to figure out the minutes and the rotations and the chemistry,” Atkinson said. “That’ll be a challenge in the beginning.”

Dinwiddie knows he could end up being paired with Russell.

“If they choose to play us together, I’m happy with it,” Dinwiddie said. “If they don’t, then they don’t. Every day I can step on the floor and be healthy, it’s a blessing. I look forward to him coming back regardless of what that does to my role.”

New York Sports