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D'Angelo Russell's three-point shooting making a difference

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson greets D'Angelo Russell

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson greets D'Angelo Russell as he leaves a game late in the fourth quarter against the Spurs at Barclays Center on Monday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Newly crowned NBA three-point champion Joe Harris hardly is the only member of the Nets heaving and thriving from long distance.

D’Angelo Russell, who also participated in All-Star weekend in Charlotte earlier this month as a first-time member of the Eastern Conference squad, has seen a dramatic rise in his 3-pointers made and attempted over the past 16 games. The All-Star point guard is averaging 26.3 points per game, along with 7.2 assists, over that span entering Wednesday’s home game against Washington.

“Big-time. Shot profile. Improving his shot profile was a big point of emphasis and a continued discussion point between him and me,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of Russell after practice Tuesday in Brooklyn. “I think he’s buying into it. I do think there’s some compromise there. I think we need to give him a little freedom. With freedom, you’re going to take some bad shots once in a while.”

Russell had been attempting 6.7 threes per game while averaging 18.1 points over 46 appearances through Jan. 16. That number has risen 43 percent to 9.6 attempts over the past 16 games, a stretch that has featured two 40-point performances by Russell.

“The more threes that guys can shoot, the more efficiently we're going to play, the higher our points per possession are going to be. So for D-Lo to be probably our biggest catalyst in that area, it makes the offense go,” Harris said. “And they even want him to be more aggressive.

“They want all of us to be more aggressive shooting threes. We took 50 threes (in Monday’s win over San Antonio), but if Kenny could have it his way I'm sure he'd want us to take 65, 70 threes a game.”

Atkinson believes Harris --- who began play Tuesday leading the NBA in three-point field goal percentage (47.8 percent) – has been receiving extra attention from opposing defenses since winning the long-distance shootout in Charlotte.

But Russell’s recent inclination to shoot more from deep and the returns from injuries of Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert have helped the Nets stretch their offense around him.

“It opens up the floor, when you have a lot of shooters like that; like (Russell), Joe Harris, Treveon (Graham),” Levert said. “The floor is wide open and (opponents) can’t really help off of those guys. I think when we’re hitting shots, obviously we’re at our best. And when we’re defending like we did (Monday) night, it gives us a great chance to win games.”

Indeed, the 85 points allowed in Monday’s victory over the Spurs marked the Nets’ second-stingiest total of the season. LeVert stressed that as a personal focus while he’s still trying to regain his offensive rhythm alongside Russell in the backcourt after missing more than 10 weeks with a broken foot. His 15 points against the Spurs represented LeVert’s high in six appearances since returning to the lineup.

“I feel like I’m getting back to my regular self, but honestly that’s not where a lot of my attention is right now,” LeVert said. “I’m just trying to get back on the defensive end and make energy plays, and I know (scoring) will come as I continue to play more.”

Notes & quotes: The Nets signed guard Tahjere McCall to a 10-day contract off the roster of their G-League Long Island affiliate.  The 24-year-old Tennessee State product has averaged 10.0 points in 23 games for Long Island this season.

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