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Nets falter in Utah, end west road trip 2-3

Jazz guard Ricky Rubio tries to steal the

Jazz guard Ricky Rubio tries to steal the ball  from  Nets guard D'Angelo Russell on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Credit: AP / Chris Nicoll

SALT LAKE CITY — The Nets would have liked to come home from a 2-3 West Coast road trip feeling good about the growth they showed in terms of playing better defense and developing a stronger road mentality. But they haven’t found a way to beat the injury bug, and it bit them again when they lost D’Angelo Russell with 2:35 left in a 114-106 loss to the Jazz on Saturday night.

The Nets had battled back from an 18-point third-quarter deficit to within six points of the Jazz when Russell drove and landed awkwardly on his left leg. He immediately walked off the court under his own power and did not return.

Coach Kenny Atkinson said Russell hurt his left knee. He walked with a slight limp to a room down the hall from the locker room for a postgame examination, and Atkinson said Russell will be examined further Sunday in Brooklyn.

The Nets lost point guard Jeremy Lin for the season with a ruptured patella tendon in the season opener, and they were without backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie (tight hamstring) at Utah. Russell was their best player against the Jazz with 26 points, six rebounds, three assists and a plus-9 rating, and if he is lost for any significant amount of time, it would be crippling for the young Nets (5-8).

DeMarre Carroll talked to Russell immediately after the injury and again when Russell returned to the locker room. The young point guard looked none the worse for wear, but only the X-rays can see inside his left knee.

Russell was not permitted to talk to reporters. When Carroll was asked if he has a sense of the severity of the injury, he said, “No. Nobody knows. Everything is loose. We’ve just got to hope for the best. It’s been an injury-riddled season [13] games in, going from Jeremy to Trevor [Booker] to Quincy [Acy]. We’ve just got to stay together, man, and hopefully we can push through it when we get everybody back on the court and make a run. Hopefully he’s OK. He’s a big part of our team.”

With Russell out, the Nets inched closer when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson converted a pair of free throws with 1:23 left to cut the deficit to 108-104, but two turnovers killed their momentum as the Jazz pulled away.

Hollis-Jefferson had 19 points, Carroll 15 and Booker 12. Utah (6-7) got a big night from rookie Donovan Mitchell with 26 points. Derrick Favors had 24 points and 12 rebounds, Rodney Hood scored 19, including a 5-for-8 effort from three-point range, and Joe Ingles added 17.

If not for Russell’s injury, the Nets might have flown home on a cloud of optimism coming off their gritty victory Friday in Portland, two wins on the trip and their late comeback against Utah. But that was tempered by the injury and another slow start in the second game of a back-to-back.

Russell was out of the game resting in favor of Isaiah Whitehead when the Jazz put together a 25-4 run that spanned the end of the first quarter to midway in the second for a 45-29 lead.

The Jazz went ahead 102-85 before a 19-6 run, including 10 points from Hollis-Jefferson, got the Nets within four.

“In the second half, we came out more together, more focused, more locked in,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It showed in our play. Obviously, you worry about the loss, but on a good note, we came out and competed and we were locked in.”

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