Nets' blowout of Lakers is secondary to Anthony Davis injury woes in L.A.
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Reporter
The much-anticipated collision between two possible NBA Finals contenders was anticlimactic, with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers missing two starters in Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder and the Brooklyn Nets without Kevin Durant.
An hour before tipoff, shortly after Lakers coach Frank Vogel spoke pregame about how excited he was to see Schroder match up against Kyrie Irving, the team found out that its point guard wouldn't be able to play because of health and safety protocols. It's unclear how much time Schroder will miss.
Next came 48 minutes of unexciting basketball. The Nets led by as many as 25 points. There was one lead change. It wasn't a measuring stick game by any stretch of the imagination.
But it also wasn't meaningless – at least not to LeBron James.
"It's never a move on, flush it – not for me" said James, who had 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, becoming the third player in NBA history to reach at least 35,000 points after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928). "I will definitely rewatch the game, see ways we could've got better, ways we could get better shots, not turn the ball over, see ways we could've got better stops and some of the breakdowns we had defensively."
There weren't any revelations to be gleaned from Thursday's game. No one knows which team would have an edge if the Lakers and Nets were to meet in July on the NBA's biggest stage. On Thursday, there were too many key pieces missing.
That said, the Nets showed more improvement in the areas they need to work on.
The Nets have the highest offensive rating in the league (1.151), but their defense has been abysmal. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the highest defensive rating in the league (1.026), but their 3-point shooting has left much to be desired of late.
On Thursday, the Nets held the Lakers to fewer than 100 points for just the fifth time this season. They swarmed and switched and actually tried on the less glamorous end of the court. Meanwhile, the Lakers stunk from beyond the arc, making only eight of their 30 3-point attempts.
According to Nets coach Steve Nash, his team has finally made some much-needed strides on defense.
Said Nash: "Guys have improved, turned a corner, however you want to put it on the defensive end."
Added Irving: "It's about time."
Joe Harris said the Nets' turning point came with a 122-111 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 9. In that game, they allowed a team with the second-worst field goal percentage in the league (43.8) to make 56.6% of its shots. The veterans spoke up in the locker room afterward and said things needed to change.
"After that game, just the level of focus, the attention to detail and the intensity on the defensive end has really ramped up," Harris said.
Since then, the Nets (19-12) have won five in a row, and they are now only one game behind the first-place Philadelphia 76ers (19-10) in the Eastern Conference.
Vogel said the Nets' defense is unique, unlike anything the Lakers have seen this season, but he added that his team could've done a much better job of attacking it.
"They have a defensive philosophy of switching everything," he said. "There’s plenty of holes to attack it. We just didn’t."
The Lakers, who are in second place in the Western Conference with a record of 22-8, weren't at their best Thursday. They were a bit discombobulated and out of sorts without two-fifths of their starting lineup.
They have an uphill battle ahead of them without Davis for an extended period of time. He'll miss nine games before All-Star break, which ends March 10. It's unclear how many games he'll miss after that because the second half of the NBA schedule hasn't been released yet.
Everyone needs to step up in Davis' absence, even the 36-year-old James, who is having yet another MVP-caliber season following a grueling championship run and historically short 71-day offseason.
James, however, isn't concerned.
"You already knew it was going to be a challenge coming into the season, so it shouldn't be a surprise when you're hit with some adversity," he said. "I think adversity builds character. And that's how you handle it. Nothing changes for me."
Now, the Lakers and Nets will press on with their unique sets of advantages and challenges – and only time will tell if they'll meet again this summer. Until then, both teams will have to wonder how they'd really match up.
For Irving, there was only one real takeaway from the Nets' blowout win.
"It was a fun game," he said.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA reporter for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.