While the Lakers and their fans are still reeling over the missed call against the Celtics, life in the NBA moves on. The road trip continues as the Lakers roll on to the Empire State. They take on the Brooklyn Nets on the first game of a back-to-back. The Nets are currently 4th in the Eastern Conference with a 30-19 record.
The Lakers have already beaten the Nets once this season when Anthony Davis was at the beginning of his dominant run. But the problem is that both Davis and LeBron James will be sitting out against the Nets, likely because it is a back-to-back.
As for the Nets, they are also going to be undermanned. Kevin Durant hasn’t played in three weeks due to an MCL sprain. Ben Simmons is also questionable. (And, thus, LeBron has still not taken on Kevin Durant since Christmas Day of 2018.)
The Nets still have plenty of firepower, though. They have Kyrie Irving, who has been getting all the buckets. In his last 6 games, he’s averaged 36.3 points, 6.3 boards, 7.8 assists, and 2.3 steals. He’s also shooting .475 from three in that span.
Brooklyn also has young Nic Claxton, who leads the league in blocked shots (2.7; Jaren Jackson, Jr. is listed as #1 but as of now, he wouldn’t qualify as the league leader). And we know the shooters the Nets have. Seth Curry is dangerous (.438). Joe Harris is making his way back (.404). Yuta Watanabe would lead the league in accuracy if he shot more (.495). Patty Mills can still get it done (.391). Even the defensive-minded Royce O’Neale is a deadeye this season (.403).
Still, the Nets without Kevin Durant haven’t been as great. Brooklyn is 3-6 without him although they did win their last game (against the Knicks, of all teams). But that’s the luxury of having a second star (right, Lakers?); the Nets are certainly still potent with Kyrie as the first option.
The Lakers have neither star for Monday, though. Can they win without them? They did it against a healthy Miami squad. But overall, they’re 1-3 without both of them this season. What they had against Miami were great contributions from Dennis Schröder, Thomas Bryant, and Russell Westbrook. They’re going to need them again if they were to stand a chance at winning.
The game plan against the Nets were to let “the others” beat them. It’s a dangerous prospect (as evidenced against Dallas in Christmas Day) and Kevin Durant still got his 31 points. But the supporting cast shot really badly and the Nets only made 7 for 27 (.259) from behind the arc. This time around, they might send a second defender towards Kyrie. We’ll see if they do the same thing here.
The Lakers are going into Game #51 of 82. They’re still under .500 and time is running out fast. They’ve had many signature wins this season but they’ve also had many losses that were frustrating. They need to get consistently good, fast. And there’s no better time than the present.