Nets 109 Lakers 98

The Nets can score, we know that. And they can shoot.

Jim Rome
February 19, 2021 - 9:11 am
Kyrie Irving

USA Today

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There was a ton of hype going into Lakers v. Nets last night. Let’s get one piece of history out of the way, before we start talking about the future. And that piece of history was LeBron James breaking the 35,000 point mark.

Here’s the list of NBA players who’ve scored more than 35,000 points: KAJ, Karl, and LeBron. That’s it. Not Michael. Not Magic. Not Larry. Not Kobe. Not anyone else. Just those three guys.

And LeBron did it faster than the other two. And as you can tell from this season, he’s not done yet. Not even close.

But enough with the history, let’s get into the future. Because if last night’s Nets-Lakers game at Staples was a Finals teaser, I like it. I’m here for it. I wouldn’t turn down five or six or seven games of that in a few months.

I’ll take a full series of LeBron hitting shots like the fadeaway over Jeff Green.

I’d also be up for a series of James Harden doing this on the biggest stage

And I’d take a series of Kyrie Irving clowning LeBron for missing a free throw by asking the Lakers “that’s your best free throw shooter?”

Sign me up for all of that. Just don’t get it twisted and think that last night would be how that series would go. Because there were some rather large pieces missing:  – like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, obviously. But also LA was missing Dennis Schruder. And that matters.

I’m not going to say last night’s 109-98 win for the Nets doesn’t count, but I am saying you can go ahead slap a giant asterisk on it.

Steve Nash knows that: “I don’t think we’re getting too carried away. We played a solid game and got a good win on the road, but it’s early and we’ve got a lot of growing to do. We have to take the opportunity to get better regardless of the results, but it also feels sweet when you go out West and win some games."

So does Kyrie: “We’ll see them down the road again with a whole entire healthy Lakers team. That’s what we wanted, and we expect that.”

In other words, that was not a Finals preview. That was a Finals teaser.

Because when Schruder was ruled out due to the league’s health and safety protocols that meant the Lakers were going to be without two of their three leading scorers. And they didn’t have the primary guy they were going to throw at Kyrie defensively.

So if I’m a Laker fan, I’m not freaked out by a loss last night. I’m freaked out by something from last night, but not the loss.

But just because that’s not an official Finals preview does not mean it didn’t matter. It did. In a big way. Because if the Nets lost that game, that would’ve been a kick in the junk. If you want to be a legit threat to win an NBA title, you have to do what the Nets did last night – go into Staples and beat the Lakers when their down.

Failing to do that, even without Durant, would’ve raised serious questions? If a team of LeBron James, AC Fresh, and the rest of the Lakers depth, had beaten the Nets last night, that would a bad look for the nets: a bad thing for the Nets. 

Nobody would’ve talked about the fact that the Nets were without Durant, not when the Lakers were without two of their guys. And everyone would’ve talked about the fact that maybe the Nets aren’t ready for primetime. Maybe just throwing together a bunch of talented guys with a first time head coach isn’t a great plan.

So the Nets had to do more than show up. And even just winning probably wasn’t enough. If the Lakers are without two of their key guys, they had to win convincingly. And they did that.

Because last night, as much as LeBron did, it wasn’t enough. And the Nets proved that even without Durant, they are explosive. That offensive Voltron, even when it’s missing one part, is still pretty damn good. And they make scoring look pretty damn easy.

It’s not just about Kyrie and Harden getting to the rim, it’s about the whole team’s three point shooting. It’s about Joe Harris going for 21 points last night, including six threes. It’s about TLC hitting five threes. It’s about the entire Nets team hitting 18 in the second half.

It’s about a team that has 65 threes in the last three games, which is among the all-time great runs from deep in league history. And they’ve done that without Durant. Now imagine adding in a 7-foot tall walking bucket to that offense and you can see why teams in the East are sweating it.

The Nets can score, we know that. And they can shoot. They aren’t just about handing the ball to one of the big three and letting them work, they’ve got five players hitting more than 40 percent from deep.

Nobody is expecting this Nets team to keep shooting at this level. It would be nearly impossible. The question is: can they defend? That’s going to be the question not just now, but for the rest of the regular season and in the playoffs. Can they do enough defensively to beat a team four times in a series? Do they have enough on the interior right now or do they add a piece or two before the playoffs to get better in there so that they don’t get punished by someone like Joel Embiid or, I don’t know, someone like Anthony Davis.

And speaking of Anthony Davis, Laker fans, if I were you, that’s the thing I’d be worried about coming out of last night. I tried to warn you before. I tried to tell you that AD might not be back as quickly as you’d expect. That no matter what the team was saying or what you thought you heard, this was not a 2-3 deal:

And that was confirmed by Frank Vogel last night.

Four weeks. And that’s if everything goes well. And if it has to take longer, so be it. If I’m a Laker fan, I’m not worrying about the Nets right now, I’m worrying about that calf and Achilles right now. Davis and the Lakers have to do everything they can and take as long as they need to make sure he’s as close to 100 percent for when it matters.

Last night mattered to the Nets. It didn’t matter to the Lakers. But the next four weeks do. And making sure Davis is right is the most important thing now. Nothing matters more than that.