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With two days before opening night, starting lineup still not set

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks back, when Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks had their preseason press conference, the coach told reporters that he had a starting lineup “way back here,” pointing to his head. “Eventually, it will come to the mouth, and we’ll let you guys know.”

As of this weekend, it’s still back there.

The big question remains who starts at the 3. The starting back court seems set with Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. Timofey Mozgov started all four preseason games at center and Atkinson has praised Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s work at the 4. DeMarre Carroll, who appears to have a new lease on life, started at the 3, but that was in part because Allan Crabbe, the $19 million man, had twisted his ankle.

“It’s still to be determined,” Atkinson told beat writers. “Still have to look at everything, and he’s a part of that. [We’ll] look at his progression. That being said, I do like how that group played together, that starting five. But nothing is set in stone yet.”

Crabbe and Carroll bring a lot to the table, They are three-point specialists, with Crabbe finishing second in the NBA last season. They are both veterans of winning teams. Carroll’s teams have won 50 or more games in three of the last four years while Crabbe has never missed the playoffs in his four years in the league.

But the 31-year-old Carroll provides the veteran presence Atkinson craves and he can move over to the 4. He is also healthy.

“It’s the best I’ve felt. I felt like I can move more,” said Carroll, who’s praised the Nets performance team. “One, my shot felt good, more legs. It’s amazing how good you can feel when you’re actually healthy.”

On the other hand, the Nets are paying Crabbe big, big bucks.

“I feel like that’s what everybody’s goal should be as a player,” Crabbe said about starting. “[But] whatever the coaching staff feels should be the five out there at the time, then that’s the five that’ll be out there.”

No matter what, the Nets will have a far better bench than they did last season, when they kept shuffling players on and off the roster. They have more continuity with nine players returning, compared to five a year ago, increased athleticism and improved shooting.

“With the bench, we’re going to come in and keep the ball moving, play at a high level, run up and down,” Trevor Booker, the bench leader, told Greg Logan of Newsday recently. “I feel like that second unit could easily be the starting unit. We’re going to pick up where the first unit left off.”