Nets fall to Timberwolves as D’Angelo Russell haunts ex-team

MINNEAPOLIS — Brooklyn fell out of first place in the Eastern Conference. And it was a former Net who knocked them off their perch.

The last time the Nets faced the Timberwolves, D’Angelo Russell admitted he might not get any extra juice playing against his old team but sure would facing the general manager who traded him away. On Sunday, Russell gave Sean Marks a reminder of exactly what he can do.

Russell dissected the Nets and outplayed James Harden, with the Nets taking a 136-125 loss before a Target Center crowd that included Timberwolves minority owner — and former Yankees star — Alex Rodriguez.

The Nets (29-17) fell half a game behind Miami in the East. And it was hard to determine which was worse between Harden and the Nets’ sieve-like defense. The Nets allowed 52.2 percent shooting, including 56.8 percent in a first half that saw them dig a 72-62 hole from which they never recovered.

D’Angelo Russell looks to drive past James Harden.
Getty Images

One game after proclaiming himself back, Harden had 13 points and 13 assists but shot just 4-for-13 and finished a minus-14.

Harden had six of the Nets’ 19 turnovers, with Minnesota’s 28-10 edge in points off turnovers essentially the difference on the night.

While Kyrie Irving was nothing short of stellar with a game-high 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting, six rebounds and five assists, his backcourt mate couldn’t say the same.

Harden was a scoreless 0-for-4 in the first quarter and was 1-for-8 at intermission with the Nets down by double figures.

James Harden reacts during the Nets' loss to the Timberwolves.
James Harden reacts during the Nets’ loss to the Timberwolves.
Getty Images

Russell cut the Nets’ nonexistent defense up for 23 points and 10 assists, including 10 points in the first quarter alone when he came out inspired. After telling The Post “I plan on being [in Brooklyn] for life” in 2018, Russell was a late throw-in casualty of the 2019 sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant.

While all the Nets (except the injured Joe Harris) are gone from that roster, Marks is still around. And seemingly in Russell’s sights.

“Maybe if Sean Marks was in a jersey, then there’d be something different,” Russell told The Post. “But he’s not.”

Anthony Edwards had 25 points for Minnesota, who also got 23 points and seven rebounds from center Karl-Anthony Towns. After the Nets had played with spacing, pace and energy Friday in San Antonio, that was missing in Minnesota.

“We’ve tried to preach that all season long,” coach Steve Nash said. “It’s pretty glaring sometimes when we get a little static in the fourth quarter, more predictable. So we’ve been preaching pace and purpose and intent in the fourth quarter and trying to avoid wasted possessions and continue to push and look for opportunities early no matter what quarter it is.

“Obviously, in the fourth quarter in San Antonio, the ball went in the basket, but the intent and purpose was there, the process was there, and that’s what we’re looking for. So I’m really proud of the effort in San Antonio in the fourth quarter.”

D'Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell
NBAE via Getty Images

The Timberwolves proved a different story.

The Nets trailed 37-36 after a first quarter that saw them allow 56.5 percent shooting. In the second quarter, Blake Griffin’s 7-foot turnaround hook had the Nets within 50-49 with 7:32 left in the half.

It would be the last time they would challenge on Sunday.

The Nets allowed a 19-6 run to lose contact.

By the time Edwards hit a pair of free throws with 1:25 left in the half, the Nets trailed 69-55. They shot just 2 of 13 with a couple of turnovers during that six-minute stretch. With the way they were defending, they could hardly afford a spell colder than the snowy Minnesota weather.

Russell and Edwards combined for 32 by intermission. And by the time Edwards hit a 3-pointer with 6:40 left in the third quarter, the deficit had swelled to 89-74.

It never got closer than 104-100 the rest of the evening.

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