LeBron James was in the house in his new Lakers jersey, and he was a dominant presence as ever. But while he got the lion’s share of cheers all night, it was former Laker D’Angelo Russell who got the last laugh, hitting the clinching three-pointer with 22.4 seconds left in a 115-110 Nets victory Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
Russell scored 22 points and added 13 assists as the Nets won their sixth straight game.
The six-game winning streak, which has come on the heels of an eight-game losing streak, is the Nets’ longest since the end of the 2014-15 season and stands as the longest active streak in the NBA. They will be in Chicago Wednesday night looking for No. 7.
“It’s a great feeling,” Russell said. “I’ve personally never been in that position at this level, six in a row. Definitely not satisfied. I want to give ourselves a chance to keep it going.”
The Nets acquired Russell, the No. 2 player from the 2015 draft, from the Lakers more than a year ago. He was available because the Lakers were intent on drafting Lonzo Ball, but team president Magic Johnson added insult by saying Russell didn’t make players around him better. So, it was natural to wonder if he felt any extra juice or revenge motive.
“No,” Russell insisted. “Honestly, the crowd was electric and you could feel it. The Lakers were in town, so we wanted to give them a run.”
The Nets opened the final period with an 8-2 surge to push their lead to 98-85 on a brilliant reverse layup by Joe Harris with 7:59 to play. But the Lakers responded with a 10-0 run that began with threes by Kyle Kuzma and Ball and ended with two layups by James to cut the Nets’ lead to 100-97. When Kuzma bottomed out a right-wing three with 3:53 left, the Nets’ margin was down to 104-102.
That’s where Jared Dudley stepped up with a driving layup and long jumper to push the lead to 110-105. After a layup by James again made it a three-point game, Russell calmly stroked a three, but James responded in kind at the other end to cut the Lakers’ deficit to 113-110 with 17.4 ticks left. James missed two more three-point attempts down the stretch.
When Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was asked if he saw extra motivation from Russell against his former team, he said, “You know, I don’t like that stuff. I think he’s playing good basketball. Anytime you’re playing your former team, you want to kick their tail. He’s been playing well, and it continued tonight.”
In addition to Russell’s big game, the Nets (14-18) received 19 points from Joe Harris, 18 points plus six assists from Spencer Dinwiddie, 17 points and eight rebounds from Hollis-Jefferson and 13 each from Dudley and DeMarre Carroll.
James had 36 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists to lead the Lakers (18-13), who took their second straight loss. Kuzma had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Ball totaled 23 points.
For the first time this season, both Russell and Dinwiddie played virtually the entire fourth quarter together, except for when Russell was removed for 18 seconds.
“They’ve been playing great,” Atkinson said. “The ball is in their hands a lot and they make plays.”
There were questions about whether Russell and Dinwiddie could play together, but their chemistry is growing.
“We’re winning,” Russell said. “It’s not an easy thing to do to have two dominant ballhandlers like that, so I give credit to the coaching staff. When we’re out there together, it’s a two-headed snake coming at you. No team really wants to see that.”