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Relying on Rodi: Nets pump up minutes for 20-year-old

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

When it came time to give out the game ball Wednesday night, the Nets didn’t give it to the obvious choice: Spencer Dinwiddie who after all set a team record for more points off the bench in a game. Nope, the game ball went to Rodions Kurucs, the 20-year-old who like Dinwiddie had a career high of 13 points in 19 minutes.

“We all wanted it, and we got it. We played together, we played with energy and we showed we want to win,” Kurucs said post-game.

It was the third straight game and fifth game in the last six that the 6’10” Latvian played more than 13 minutes but the win over the 76ers was different. He played every second of the fourth quarter, establishing himself, finally, as part of the rotation.

His coach trusts him.

“Yeah, you didn’t know what was going to happen it was fun for all of us. He threw one in the third row and then he made two huge tip-aways from [Ben] Simmons,” said Kenny Atkinson. “Simmons tried to post him. That’s his length. He gives us length and activity. Again, he forced us to keep him in there.”

Kurucs in fact had three steals, all at critical times in the game, two against Ben Simmons late.

“He played tough. He was provoking me all game when I was guarding him,” said Kurucs of last year’s Rookie of the Year. “I just knew he would post me. I know that I could steal these balls. I always steal these balls in the post. You can check the videos from Europe. I stole a lot of balls like that.”

He finished 4-of-6 overall, 1-of-1 from deep. Here’s some highlights from his agent. Oh, that spin move!

Of course, he still needs to work on a number of things: He hasn’t had an assist since Opening Night against Detroit when he tossed his first and only pass that led to a basket. His three pointer vs. Philly came after missing 10 straight from deep in six games this month. He’s averaging 3.6 personals in 14.8 minutes this month.

But he’s part of the mix now, the surprise 40th pick in last June’s draft who couldn’t get off the bench last year in Barcelona because he was headed to the NBA.

“That means a lot,” he said of Atkinson’s trust in him. “That means a lot to me because before I didn’t have that coach that believed in me, it means a lot because guys trust in me, coach trusts in me, and they give me that energy to go on the floor every day and work my ass off. I’ve never had this kind of team, this kind of collective.”

Of course, he brings an intangible to the team: his energy. As Kevin Pelton of ESPN tweeted late in the game...

We’re sure it’s coming. So is a lot more.