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Atkinson ejected as Wolves hand Nets third straight loss

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Final: 111-97

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets played the second game of back-to-back without Caris LeVert (sore groin), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (right groin strain) and D’Angelo Russell (injury management).

They put up a fight, but lost 111-97, Saturday night at Minnesota. The Nets, now 18-32 on the season, have lost three straight games. They’re 1-3 on the road-trip with the final game of the five-game trip this Tuesday at MSG against the Knicks.

It was a similar script: They dug themselves in a deep hole early and had to climb their way out.

Minnesota held the Nets scoreless for more than five minutes and finished the final 8:30 of the first on a 22-3 run. They led by 19 by the end of the first quarter and as much as 26 in the second quarter. The Nets turned the ball over nine times and scored a season-low for points in a quarter with 11. It was bad, to say the least.

But still, they fought and brought the deficit down to 12 by the end of the half.

They gained a little momentum early in the third and cut it down to five, but the Timberwolves immediately answered with a 12-2 run. It was back to double digits entering the fourth.

Jahlil Okafor scored in double figures for the fourth time this season. It was also his third time that he’s logged 15 or more minutes since joining the Nets. Behind his lead, the Nets got it within eight late in the game, but they couldn’t get stops when they needed them most.

Okafor finished the night with 21 points, six rebounds and a blocked shot on 9-of-14 shooting in 23 minutes. It was the most points he’s scored as a Net. The last time he scored more than 20 points in a game was March 14 of last season when he scored 22 in a two-point 76er loss to the Warriors. Okafor became the ninth different Net to score 20+ points off the bench, a new franchise record.

“Regardless of the minutes, it’s always an opportunity whether that’s in practice or when I’m on the floor. With Rondae out, we all have to step up,” Okafor said. “I tried to do my part and so did the other guys. We came up short today against a really good team, but it’s something to build off of.”

Late in the fourth quarter, Joe Harris got slapped on the wrist but there was no call. Kenny Atkinson asked official Tony Brothers about the foul and was immediately T’d up. Not long after, Atkinson went off and was ejected from the game, his first ever. This has been boiling.

Post-game, Atkinson said he was trying to protect Harris, but preferred to talk about his team’s response.

“Even after I got thrown out, they kept fighting for the old man, so credit to them,” said Atkinson. “If you get specific, that’s the one. But listen, I don’t want to make this [about me] or the referees.

“It happens. I got frustrated. I wish I didn’t get frustrated and so emotional. But I did feel like I wanted to protect Joe, protect our player. It’s as simple as that in a box.”

Harris said Atkinson’s outburst was the product of built-up frustration.

“You can’t put it all on one game, especially because we’re at the end of a road trip where we’ve lost some tough games, some close ones. Kenny is just trying to fight for his guys,” Harris told reporters.

DeMarre Carroll was the only Nets starter in double figures with 12 points and six rebounds. Nik Stauskas chipped in 15 points off the bench. The Nets shot 9-of-30 from 3-pt and 47 percent on the night. They turned the ball over 15 times.

For Minnesota, Andrew Wiggins led the way with 21 points and Karl-Anthony Towns went off for 16 points and 19 rebounds. Jimmy Butler returned and dropped 21 as well. Minnesota shot 44 percent from the field and a poor 4-of-21 from deep, but they owned the rebounding battle and turned the ball over just six times.