Short-handed Lakers can't keep pace late in loss to the Nets

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives past Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
Nets guard Kyrie Irving drives down the lane past Lakers forward Rui Hachimura during the first half Monday night in Brooklyn. (Corey Sipkin / Associated Press)

Kyrie Irving, one of the slickest ballhandlers in the NBA, dribbled in front of the Lakers’ bench in the first half Monday night at Barclays Center. One of the league’s peskiest defenders, Patrick Beverley, tried to mirror him move for move before he eventually was called for a foul.

It was an entertaining moment in the game — and one that ended with LeBron James, sitting on the end of the Lakers’ bench, reaching his hands into a box of popcorn and pulling out a few pieces.

Fresh off a game the Lakers believed they should’ve won in Boston, they played one they certainly knew they could lose, with forward Anthony Davis sitting out the front end of a back-to-back set and James on the bench because of a persistent sore left foot.

Though they continued to show teams around the NBA that they’re not short on fight, with Davis and James on the bench, the Lakers were too short on talent to win — even against a Brooklyn team without All-Star Kevin Durant and point guard Ben Simmons.

The Lakers lost to the Nets 121-104 despite leading by as many as seven in the second half. Thomas Bryant scored 18 points and Russell Westbrook had 17, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

Guard Troy Brown Jr. grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds with James and Davis sitting out.

“It’s hard,” Brown said. “We play in a league where the game waits for nobody.”

It didn’t wait for the Lakers to get to full strength Monday.

Irving scored 26 to lead the Nets past the Lakers (23-28), another loss in a game in which they did enough to produce positive feelings and showed enough weakness that it’s hard to gauge just what path this team is on.

The Lakers missed too many threes (18) and too many free throws (14) to win Monday. The games in which they play hard and don’t capitalize are adding up as the losses keep them weighed down in the Western Conference standings.

“We’ve seen it when we’re able to play the right way, and we know what it takes,” Westbrook said. “It’s just really up to us honestly.”

Before the game, the Lakers still were stung from losing in Boston on Saturday, the fallout from officials missing a last-second foul by Celtics star Jayson Tatum on James rippling through the weekend thanks to the league’s last-two-minute report, which confirmed the missed foul, and an apology from the Twitter account run by the union for NBA referees.

“Man, in life you just gotta move on, bro,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “It is what it is. Everybody saw what happened. Just gotta move on.”

Lakers' Russell Westbrook looks to shoot a layup while defended by Brooklyn Nets' Nic Claxton and Kyrie Irving.
Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) looks to shoot a layup while defended by Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton (33) and guard Kyrie Irving (11) during the second half on Monday in New York. (Corey Sipkin / Associated Press)

After a miserable first quarter in which the Lakers scored just 16 points, they did what they’ve sort of done all season.

They continued to push, cutting into the Nets’ lead, getting just enough momentum at halftime to attack in the second half.

Ham called the first half “a bit of a hangover.” In the third quarter, the Advil, at least briefly, kicked in.

Westbrook moved into sole possession of 10th on the NBA’s career assist leaderboard, passing Gary Payton on a dish to Bryant for a dunk in the second quarter.

“Never dreamt of being in this position, next to some of the greats,” Westbrook said. “I’m just truly grateful.”

The Lakers led by seven points late in the third quarter, but the Nets scored 10 unanswered points to steal back momentum, eventually pushing back in front by double digits in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers, then, ran out of gas — their best players on the bench unable to help secure a win.

“We had plays right in front of us,” Ham said. “Just have to step up and make them.”

The team plays the New York Knicks on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden — a suddenly big game with the Lakers in danger of falling six games below .500 for the first time since losing to Charlotte on Dec. 23.

Though Davis is set to play, there’s no guarantee with James, who Ham said will be re-evaluated Tuesday morning. James, chasing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points in NBA history, is 117 away from setting the record.

But despite another loss, there’s still optimism, the Lakers holding on to the stretches of play — such as the third quarter Monday — that suggest the team is better than its record.

“I definitely feel like we’re right there, you know,” Brown said. “It’s just more about turning that curve. And when you’re that close, when you lose by two, lose by three or a free throw or don’t get a foul call, for me, I don’t lose hope. I think that’s a sign of good things. It’s just that one of these days, we have to turn that curve. Obviously, we don’t have all year for that but I think we still have a chance.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.