With the finish line on a rough road trip palpably close, the Lakers trudged across it in Brooklyn on Tuesday night.
The Nets beat the Lakers, 115-110, behind 22 points from point guard D’Angelo Russell, whom the Lakers drafted second overall in 2015 and traded to Brooklyn in the summer of 2017. Russell is enjoying career highs in points, shooting and assists, and the Nets (14-18) have won six games in a row.
The Lakers (18-13) went 1-3 on the trip while playing without injured Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo, but LeBron James refuted the notion that being shorthanded meant the losses mattered less.
“We don’t just take the losses and throw them away,” James said. “Not in the wild, wild West where every game counts. Every game matters and we could have had a pretty good road trip, but going 1-3 is definitely not a way that we could like to have it.”
James finished with 36 points on 13-of-23 shooting, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Kyle Kuzma also contributed a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Lonzo Ball scored a season-high 23 points, making five three-pointers and nine of 16 shots.
With 22.1 seconds left, Russell hit a three-pointer to give the Nets a 113-107 lead, and James countered with a three with 17.4 seconds left.
It was enough to make the end interesting, but not to allow the Lakers a chance to steal it.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit one of two free throws to give the Nets a four-point lead with 15.7 seconds left. James then airballed a three-pointer, and missed another on the Lakers’ final shot.
“It’s a great feeling,” Russell said. “I’ve personally never been in that position at this level, to win six in a row. Definitely not satisfied.”
The Lakers trailed by double digits for much of the second half. While it could have been much worse, as the Nets came into the game averaging a league-high 122 points during their previous five games, Lakers coach Luke Walton didn’t like what he saw.
“That’s a good team but we can’t just let players blow by us,” Walton said. “I think [33-year-old Jared] Dudley had 10 points in the fourth quarter and three of them were blow-by layups. All respect to Dudley, he’s been a very good NBA player for years, but he shouldn’t be going by anyone at this stage of his career.”
Dudley took to Twitter to disagree.
“They was switching every screen, so on my dribbling hand offs I set it up all game by passing them to my teammates until The 4th,” Dudley wrote. “.. Thats when I started to fake the pass and kept my dribble towards the rim. Not about speed it’s about the angles and timing.”
Offensively, the Lakers deflated quickly. After making five of five threes in the first quarter, they went eight for 35 from three-point range the rest of the way.
A burst of energy appeared with 7:30 left in the game. After one of Dudley’s layups, the Lakers went on a 10-0 run and eventually cut the Nets’ lead to two. But the Nets answered with back-to-back baskets, including another Dudley layup, before Russell’s key three.
The Lakers return home having earned just one win — against a Charlotte team coming off an overtime loss the night before — sandwiched between double-digit losses at Houston and Washington. But they expect to welcome back Ingram, Rondo and JaVale McGee, who missed the last two games with the flu, when they host New Orleans on Friday.
“We’re all anxious to get back home, to sleep in our own bed, kinda get back in that routine,” Josh Hart said. “And hopefully JaVale’s feeling better. You know, B.I., Rondo are progressing. Hopefully have a few more bodies getting back Friday. But I think we’re anxious to get back home.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli