LOS ANGELES — After starting their brutal seven-game road trip with three straight losses and then pulling off a miracle comeback from 28 points down in Sacramento, the Nets made it two crucial road wins in a row by eking out a 111-106 victory over LeBron James and the Lakers that they had to have to maintain their playoff push Friday night at Staples Center.
The story line coming in was about Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell returning to face his former team as an All-Star leading a playoff run two years after he was traded away. He had the pleasure of mathematically eliminating the Lakers from playoff contention.
“We found a way,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It was not a Picasso by any means. It wasn’t beautiful. Give the Lakers credit. With LeBron out there, they’re very talented. It was good to close it out. It wasn’t easy.”
Down by five entering the fourth quarter, the Lakers took their last lead at 97-96 on a three-pointer by Kyle Kuzma with 5:40 left. The Nets responded with an 11-2 run that included threes by DeMarre Carroll and Spencer Dinwiddie for a 107-99 advantage with 2:50 left.
The Lakers cut their deficit to 109-106 on a pair of free throws by James and had a chance to tie the score, but James committed a turnover with 22.8 seconds left while being pressured by Carroll.
“We were trying to double our help, sticking to our principles,” Carroll said. “It looked like he slipped. He fell, and it was good for us . . . When you can win on the road, you’ve got to take advantage of it, and I think that’s what we did. We’ve got to try to build off this momentum. Hopefully we can get the next one in Portland.”
After the turnover by James, Dinwiddie was fouled but made only the first for a 110-106 lead with 17.1 seconds left. James and Kuzma proceeded to miss threes on the next possession to end the Lakers’ threat.
James led the Lakers (31-41) with a near triple-double of 23 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists. Center JaVale McGee served as his tag-team partner with 33 points and 20 rebounds.
Joe Harris topped six Nets in double figures with 26 points, including 6-for-8 three-point shooting, and Russell had 21 points, 13 assists and three steals. Dinwiddie scored 19 points, Ed Davis added 14 points and 15 rebounds, Carroll had 15 points and Jarrett Allen finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Nets (38-36) played tough defense, holding the Lakers to 38.5 percent shooting overall and 25.0 percent from three-point range (9-for-36). After struggling offensively in the first half, the Nets hit 11 of 24 three-pointers in the second half.
Harris was the first Net to get hot, and it opened the floor for his teammates. “I think it softened it up a little bit for sure because it forced [defenders] to be more cognizant of where you’re at, stay attached,'' he said. "And then, I wasn’t necessarily a decoy, but there are a lot of actions where I’m running off a screen to allow space to open up in the middle.”
Entering the game, Russell was the focus of attention in terms of the story line and also the Lakers' defense doing all it could to get the ball out of his hands. He handled it with aplomb, scoring 15 second-half points and leading the Nets down the stretch.
“He’s ‘Joe Cool,’ ” Atkinson said. “He’s just cool, doesn’t get fazed. He’s one of those special guys, they really enjoy the moment, they don’t get flustered. I never see him get frustrated. He keeps his composure and he keeps his IQ. That’s the special thing he has.”
To Russell, it wasn’t personal, it was business. “I mean, I can control my emotions, I can control what I can say,” he said. “I just wanted to come in with positive energy and control my persona…I knew it was a business game for us. You guys made it big for me, but it took the pressure off my teammates for us to come out and focus on what we needed to focus on.”