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D’Angelo Russell bounces back for Nets; Kenny Atkinson offers new challenge

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

D’Angelo Russell was benched in the fourth quarter on Friday and Sunday.

The difference is, Friday, he was pulled out of a close encounter because Kenny Atkinson felt that other Nets were playing better ... and in rhythm.

On Sunday, Russell helped lead a needed Nets blowout, dismantling the Philadelphia 76ers, 122-97. DLo finished with 21 points on 10-of-21 shooting after a 2-of-10 start. (In his 25 minutes of play, he also had six assists to one turnover.)

Before tip-off, Atkinson was asked of Russell’s benching.

“Look back and second guess me and second guess the staff. For every player could have a case, ‘Like I should be in there at the end.’ We’re doing it by committee. He’s played most at the end of games since we’ve been here, I think (Russell’s) got the second most minutes on the team. I thought about Jarrett Allen, too. I’m sure there are going to be other games where Caris (LeVert) or Joe (Harris) are going to be like, ‘Why aren’t I in at the end of games?’ It’s great that he understands that, but your whole team has to understand that,”

Postgame? Atkinson was undoubtedly pleased. He also offered a new task to the 22-year-old veteran.

“I think now the challenge for him is to do it on this road trip and keep doing it,” said the third-year head coach. “I do think the flow of our offense and the fact that we got out more in transition, I think that helps him. Sometimes when we get stagnant in the half-court, they lock into us, they lock into him, they get into him. But I thought we did a great job with our pace and getting him free in flow. I thought that was the difference.”

For Russell, not much changed, he was just in rhythm. Even after the rough start, he converted 8-of-11 the rest of the way. Take a look...

“To be honest, just making shots, getting to my spots and making them,” he said of what sparked his offensive success on Sunday night. “I was just focusing on defense. I think that was my main priority. I knew the shots would fall sooner or later, but focusing on defense, my coverage, my position, whatever it may be.”

Now, can Russell do it on the road? This will be Brooklyn’s first lengthy road trip out west, with games in Phoenix, Denver, Golden State, and Minnesota starting Tuesday and running through a week from Monday

The games, against two of the best, one of the worst, and one of the most disappointing could be crucial for DLo and his team.