Someday when Kevin Durant is healthy, maybe the Nets will stand a chance of rising to a championship level to challenge a team like the Lakers. But that is the distant future, and after allowing the Nets to hang close for most of three quarters, LeBron James and the Lakers turned on the afterburners and left them in the dust on their way to a 128-113 victory Thursday night at Barclays Center.
The Nets suffered their fifth straight loss and 12th in the past 14 games. Trailing by one point with 50 seconds left in the third period, they saw the game blow up in their faces when the Lakers went on a 26-2 run lasting deep into the fourth quarter for a 121-96 lead. The Nets shot 1-for-11 and committed five turnovers in that stretch, and the Lakers hit five three-pointers plus a three-point play.
“I think we did not shoot it well,” coach Kenny Atkinson said of that stretch. “We couldn’t really figure out our transition defense. They exploited us continually in transition defense. Third game in a row where we really struggled there.”
Asked what the Nets learned after going 0-5 against playoff teams, Atkinson said, “We’re not an elite team. We’re surviving right now.”
James had his 10th triple-double of the season with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He has 33,626 points in his career, moving him within 17 points of Kobe Bryant for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list.
Anthony Davis had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Dwight Howard added 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers (36-9), who shot 50% from three-point range (19-for-38).
Kyrie Irving topped the Nets (18-25) with 20 points. Taurean Prince added 18, Caris LeVert 16 and Wilson Chandler 15, and Spencer Dinwiddie had 13 assists.
The Nets tied their season high by making 21 three-pointers in 46 attempts (45.7%), but they couldn’t keep pace with the Lakers, who had a huge size advantage because the Nets were without injured backup centers DeAndre Jordan (dislocated right middle finger) and Nic Claxton (left shoulder soreness).
The pace was high as the Lakers took a 75-70 halftime lead. But if the Lakers were fatigued, it didn’t show when they came out blazing to begin the third quarter with a 13-5 run that included a trio of threes by Danny Green that pushed their lead to 88-75.
The Nets responded with a 19-7 run that included five three-pointers, the last by Irving to cut their deficit to 95-94. As it turned out, the Nets were out of gas, and the Lakers improved their record to 6-0 in the second half of back-to-backs.
After winning an NBA championship with former teammate James in Cleveland, Irving had to admire how he dominated.
“As great as he is going downhill and making plays for others, you’ve just got to stay disciplined,” he said. “I feel like, a few times, we got caught ball-watching. He did what a great player should do and took advantage of it.”
James went through a losing season a year ago with the Lakers, but now they are on top of the Western Conference. Asked if he can learn from that in the Nets’ situation, Irving said, “Really stay patient and don’t get ahead of myself talking too soon. And just really stay confident. Keep the guys engaged, make sure everyone’s sticking to the game plan, and we’ll continue to get better.”
After the final buzzer, Irving shared a hug with James. Describing the moment, he said, “I think the magnitude of our relationship goes way beyond the floor. I’ve learned so much from that guy, and to see what he’s doing at this age, this many years in the league, he’s consistent. That’s a great player right there.”