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Nets getting their veteran leader back

PHOENIX — For the first 11 games of the Nets’ schedule — several of them agonizing, last-minute heartbreakers — DeMarre Carroll had to watch from the bench, recovering from ankle surgery. His wait should be over Friday in Denver.

After Carroll went through an entire practice at Arizona State’s Weatherup Center, both he and coach Kenny Atkinson expect the forward to make his season debut versus the Nuggets.

“Very hopeful,” Atkinson said. “We’ll see how he reacts to [practice], but it’s looking good.”

For Carroll, it won’t come a minute too soon.

“I’m very excited, a great opportunity. Just sitting there and knowing that I could help my teammates in some of those games, so I’m excited to get back out there, and hopefully help this group improve more,” Carroll told The Post. “We’ve got a nice rhythm going, so hopefully I can come in and help elevate it a little bit.

“It’s [been] difficult. It’s very difficult those times to know my veteran leadership on the court could help these guys get this win out, but we’re losing by one or two. But these guys have been playing great, and I’m just trying to come in and help improve more, and hopefully I can pick up where I left off last year.”

Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and DeMarre Carroll, on the Nets benchCorey Sipkin

Last year, Carroll averaged 13.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and two assists, all career-highs. He also was the lone grownup in the lineup, a role he would’ve filled again before coming up with a sore right ankle this summer.

Carroll initially tried to play through the pain, before the performance team came up with a surgical plan to right the issue. Now he insists he’ll come back better than before, with improved mobility.

“Just being able to move, and do things without feeling discomfort — it should help me in my movement, getting up and down the court,” said Carroll, 32.

“It was one of those nagging things. I could’ve played the whole year with it, or I could’ve just knocked it out the beginning and got it over with. We came to the conclusion [this was better].”

Despite having led the Nets in minutes last season, Carroll will get eased back into the rotation. But there’s no guarantee when or if he’ll start, with Brooklyn having used the same lineup every game, with Joe Harris at small forward and Jared Dudley at power forward.

“Yeah, definitely ease him. With all the time he’s been out we’ll ease him in, start him low and then build him up,” Atkinson said of Carroll. “Then we’ve got to find his niche, with what lineup does it look better.”

After seeing some minutes as a stretch four last season, Carroll, 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, has been bracing to play there more. And while Atkinson said the Nets’ thin frontcourt forced his hand last year, he admitted Carroll’s ability to space the floor could help.

“It’s an open canvas to see where he ends up,” Atkinson said. “[But] it’s so important to have four shooters. … We don’t play two bigs together, although I wish I had a little more gumption to do that sometimes. But that’s our comfort level. Between Jared Dudley, DeMarre, those guys can defend that position in today’s NBA.”

Carroll, who hit a career-high 145 3-pointers and shot .371 from deep last season, is prepared to ease his way into a stretch four role if it’ll help the Nets.

“Me and Kenny both feel like it’s something that can help the team, help space the floor, give guys like Caris [LeVert], D’Angelo [Russell], Spencer [Dinwiddie] room to get downhill with the ball, open the lane and let Jarrett Allen do a lot of rolling, catching oops and dunking,” said Carroll. “It’s to space the floor. … This will help the team, so if that’s what I’ve got to do, that’s what I’ve got to do.’’

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