LOS ANGELES — It was billed as a homecoming game of sorts for former Laker D’Angelo Russell. But Brook Lopez, the Nets’ all-time leading scorer who was traded for him, was the one who owned his new home Friday night at Staples Center.
Lopez scored 34 points, including 14 in the third quarter as the Lakers took charge on their way to a 124-112 win. The ironic thing was that Nets coach Kenny Atkinson turned the 7-foot Lopez into a three-point shooter, and he destroyed the Nets with 6-for-9 shooting from outside the arc, tying his single-game high for made three-pointers accomplished twice last season.
Lopez’s three gave the Lakers a 15-point lead midway through the third quarter, and the Nets never got closer than four the rest of the way. They suffered their fourth straight loss and dropped to 0-4 on the road after the opener of a five-game trip.
Asked if it felt ironic to bury the Nets with threes, Lopez laughed and said, “I try to do that every night. It just happened to go in tonight.”
Russell had 17 points and shot 8-for-24, including 1-for-8 from three-point range. Allen Crabbe scored 25 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 21 to lead the Nets (3-6).
The Lakers (4-5) got 21 points and 13 rebounds from Kyle Kuzma, 19 points from Jordan Clarkson and 18 points and 10 rebounds from Brandon Ingram. They outrebounded the Nets 57-43, including 13 from Lopez.
Atkinson said the Nets have gotten away from the rhythm they showed during the preseason and in their 3-2 start. Russell blamed poor shooting against the Lakers and added, “We just have to be more defensive-minded and the offense will click.”
Before the game, Russell seemed taken aback by the size of the media throng he drew for his return to Staples Center. Downplaying any desire to exact revenge for the trade that sent him to the Nets on June 20 for Lopez and the draft pick that became Kuzma, he said, “I really just want to get a win. I’ll repeat it 100 times if I have to.”
Russell acknowledged how strange it was to stay in a hotel and walk past the Lakers’ locker room to the visitors’ quarters. But when asked how he likes Brooklyn, he said, “It’s been amazing. The team’s been great, the coaching staff, everybody’s been great. Moving to New York from L.A., you can’t complain about that.”
Inevitably the question was raised about criticism at the time of the trade from Lakers chief of operations Magic Johnson who said Russell didn’t provide the leadership the Lakers needed. “I can’t really do nothing about that now,” Russell said of Johnson’s remarks. “I just try to take the high route on that and control what I can control in situations like that.”
At the same time, Russell admitted it stung. “I would say it ruffled a few feathers,” Russell said, “but you control what you can control. He’s in a position to say what he wants.”
Regarding how he was supported by the Lakers’ organization, Russell said he noticed a different approach by the Nets in terms of their emphasis on development. Looking back on his rookie year, he said, “I went through a lot — Kobe’s farewell, everything. I went through a lot, so just to overcome that, I salute myself for that.”
Russell expressed admiration for Kobe Bryant and said he deserved his farewell tour but added, “There was nothing I could really do. No matter how I played or whatever, none of that was relevant. Kobe was a legend.”
Russell’s insistence that there was no special incentive for him was belied by the fact that he put up 13 first-half shots, going 1-for-6 from three-point range and scoring 11 points. The Lakers built a 64-55 advantage thanks to 17 points and efficient 7-for-8 shooting from Kuzma, who came via the No. 27 pick the Nets packaged with Lopez.
Considering the combined 55 points and 23 rebounds the Lakers got from Lopez and Kuzma, it was undeniable who won the trade, for one game at least.