LeBron James erupts for 40 points and nine 3-pointers in Nets’ 116-104 loss to Lakers

The Nets‘ inconsistency can be maddening. Just two nights after the team made 25 treys in a 17-point defeat of the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center, it sealed its fate early in Sunday’s 116-104 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers with one of its worst quarters of the season.

“They threw the first punch,” Trendon Watford said. “The first few punches, honestly.”

The Lakers led 15-0 just four minutes in. Anthony Davis, who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds, already scored six points by then while Brooklyn started 0-8. When Cam Thomas misses his first three attempts, it is never a good sign for the Nets’ offense.

Brooklyn’s first points of the game did not come until the 5:39 mark of the first quarter, a tough layup by Nic Claxton, at an awkward angle, over the outstretched arms of Davis. The Nets started 0-for-11 before that. But at that point they already trailed the Lakers 17-2, then 19-2, then 24-4 by the 4:42 mark thanks to the dominant play of Davis and LeBron James.

“I keep telling them, we’re just not good enough to have quarters like that and overcome that every time,” interim head coach Kevin Ollie said.

“You can’t get down by 20 points against this team, they’re just too talented, they just have too many guys that can create their own shot and they played very, very well tonight.”

The Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets own the record for the lowest scoring quarter by any NBA team this season at nine points. Brooklyn narrowly avoided that embarrassment with 11 first-quarter points. But trailing the Lakers 31-11 after 12 minutes of action was embarrassing enough, honestly.

In the Nets’ lowest-scoring quarter of the season, the Lakers had just as many transition points (11) as Brooklyn had total points. And Davis outscored the home team single-handedly with 13 points.

Brooklyn fought back for a moment. It trimmed what was a 20-point deficit entering the second quarter down to 12 with 6:26 left in the half. It was more balanced. Claxton started to assert himself inside with six straight points during its run.

But the combined efforts of Davis and the Lakers proved to be too much. One of D’Angelo Russell‘s four 3-pointers pushed the Lakers’ lead back to 20 with 2:24 left in the half, then a James layup through traffic in the final seconds of the quarter made it a 67-44 game at halftime.

While most of the third quarter was a snoozer in favor of the Lakers, the Nets did end the period on a 14-5 run, fueled by Thomas and Trendon Watford to make it an 11-point game entering the final frame. Then Thomas knocked down a trey on Brooklyn’s first possession of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to eight.

“We had a spark to end the third, and then starting the fourth, we had a little spark with me hitting 3s to start off,” Thomas said. “We were getting out in transition, hitting 3s, so it gives me life and it gives the whole team life because we were cutting into the lead, we were down a lot almost the whole game.”

However, despite Thomas’ best efforts to shoot Brooklyn back into the game, James would not tolerate a Lakers collapse on his watch. He scored 17 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth quarter, including nine straight to start the period.

James, on an otherworldly burner, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Lakers comfortably ahead by 17 points with just over seven minutes to play. The first make was the backbreaker. The second felt like an insult to injury.

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer had a Stephen Curry-esque night from behind the arc, finishing 9-of-10 from distance. And when James has it going like that from deep, there is not much anyone can do to stop his overall offensive threat.

“This is New York,” Ollie said. “We have to predict that [LeBron is] going to show out, being in New York.”

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Brooklyn (29-46) while the Lakers have now won six of their last seven. The Nets are now 5.5 games behind the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks for the final Eastern Conference spot in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament with seven games left. They trailed by as many as 26 points on Sunday and never led.

Thomas led the Nets with 30 points, two rebounds and six assists. Cam Johnson finished with five points and three rebounds off the bench in his return from a three-game absence and Dennis Smith Jr., also returning from injury, played just four minutes.

Spencer Dinwiddie, who started 48 games for the Nets this season, went scoreless in 21 minutes in his return to Brooklyn. Harry Giles III, another former Net, did not play.

The Nets will play the second game in their current back-to-back set Monday on the road against the Indiana Pacers.

“We have a game tomorrow, we need to get off to a good start,” Ollie said. “Indiana is a very fast-paced team that loves to play fast in the first quarter, they love to get out [and run]. So we have to have our attention to detail in knowing our game plan and getting stops against Indiana.”