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Nets’ bench almost saves new-look first unit in loss to Pacers

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who scored four points in 20

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who scored four points in 20 minutes, drives aggressively against Indiana's Myles Turner at Barclays Center on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The objective was to take a peek at the future of the Nets’ franchise. For the first time this season, coach Kenny Atkinson rested veteran Bojan Bogdanovic and replaced him with 2016 first-round pick Caris Le Vert in a starting lineup that included second-round rookie Isaiah Whitehead and 2015 first-round pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson against the Pacers on Friday night at Barclays Center.

It was the 22nd different starting lineup for the Nets this season, and it didn’t work much better than the others as the Nets’ trio of kids totaled only eight points and helped dig a 19-point third-quarter hole. But the promise of the kids gave way to the determination of a veteran second unit that made a late charge to take a brief fourth-quarter lead before the Nets ultimately fell short, 106-97. It was their eighth straight loss and 19th in their last 20 games.

When the deficit reached 19, the Nets’ second unit put together a 22-8 run that included a pair of three-pointers by Spencer Dinwiddie, who recently lost his starting point guard spot to Whitehead, plus another by Joe Harris that pulled the Nets within five.

The Pacers were ahead by eight early in the fourth period when the Nets went on an 11-1 run that ended with a three-pointer by Sean Kilpatrick and two more by Quincy Acy. That gave them their only lead of the game at 85-83 with 8:37 left.

“I thought the bench was great, really all night,” Atkinson said. “We got in a deep hole and I thought our bench was real ly good. That really kept us in the game, kept us in the mix until the end.”

But the Nets hit a cold streak in which they made one of seven shots and committed three turnovers as the Pacers extended their lead to 94-89. The Nets got within three in the final two minutes but missed several point-blank attempts at the rim.

Brook Lopez led the Nets (9-41) with 23 points. Kilpatrick scored 18, Harris added 15 and Dinwiddie had 13. Among the kids who started, Whitehead was scoreless, LeVert had four points, shooting 1-for-9, and Hollis-Jefferson had four points. The trio totaled seven of the Nets’ 19 turnovers.

Jeff Teague and Paul George topped the Pacers (27-22) with 24 points apiece.

As well as the Nets’ three young draft picks have played recently, it appeared they were trying to do too much at times.

“It’s definitely just a learning experience being out there,” Lopez said. “We’ve had a lot of changing lineups. People are playing with different people, so it’s getting accustomed to one another. Even though we are where we are in the season, it’s been a process. There’s been a lot of changes and a lot of adjustments. So a lot of this is [happening] on the fly, and they are young guys.”

Late in the fourth quarter, Atkinson primarily went with Lopez, Acy, Kilpatrick, Harris and LeVert. Explaining why he kept the rookie in the mix, Atkinson said: “I thought we needed his defense. I know he struggled offensively, but I feel very comfortable with having him out there.”

If nothing else, Atkinson said the changes create a healthy competition for playing time.

Booker said the Nets knew what they signed up for this season.

“It’s a little challenge, but at the same time, we realize we’re in a rebuilding process,” he said. “So they’re going to experiment. With them experimenting, you’ve just got to adjust to it. They want to see how certain people play together. Kenny has talked to us about it, and I think the guys have been pretty receptive to it and are just staying positive. Everybody’s going to keep working.”

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