Nets carry momentum into matchup with Lakers
D'Angelo Russell is back in Los Angeles.
That's newsworthy in itself, but the only storyline he and the Brooklyn Nets are concerned with is trying to follow up a stirring win in Sacramento with a road victory over the skidding Lakers on Friday night.
The Nets are 1-3 on their season-high seven-game road trip. They collapsed in the second half at Oklahoma City, got blown out in Utah and lost on a buzzer beater to the Los Angeles Clippers before trailing by as many as 28 on Tuesday in Sacramento.
Instead of falling to 0-4, Russell willed the Nets to an unlikely 123-121 win. He scored 27 of his career-best 44 points in the fourth quarter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit the game-winning basket in the final seconds and the Nets became the fourth team in the shot clock era to win when trailing by at least 25 points entering the fourth quarter.
Russell, who spent his first two seasons with the Lakers, comes in averaging career highs of 20.2 points and 6.9 assists.
"When he locks in and he's on fire, there aren't many people who can stop him," Hollis-Jefferson said. "I'm proud of him. I played against him in college when he was saying 'zero people can guard me.' Just to see that transition, to see him keep getting better, it's amazing."
Russell has averaged 22.2 points since Dec. 5 and the Nets are 29-18 after losing 18 of their first 26 games. Russell's ascension into an All-Star has pushed Brooklyn into a tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference with Detroit and Miami.
While the Nets were thrilled to get the historic comeback Tuesday, they are hoping for an easier time Friday. The Nets outscored Sacramento 45-18 with a fourth-quarter lineup of Russell and four forwards in Hollis-Jefferson, Jared Dudley, Treveon Graham and rookie Rodions Kurucs.
"We were at our wits' end. It was desperation," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "We turned to that group, a little bit like let's conserve our main guys and play it out. I wasn't expecting an amazing comeback. I just have to be honest."
Russell is facing the Lakers for the fourth time since being traded for Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma on draft night in 2017. The Lakers replaced Russell at point guard by drafting Lonzo Ball and then used their salary cap space to sign LeBron James last July.
James is doing his part by averaging 27.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 8.0 assists this season. He also is dealing with groin issues and has sat out two of the last three games.
The Lakers have lost four straight and are 2-11 in their last 13 games.
James scored 33 points in his last appearance Sunday in New York, but was just 4-of-15 in the fourth quarter of a 124-123 loss. He did not play Tuesday in Milwaukee when the Lakers shot 38.4 percent in a 115-101 loss.
"We're a much better team when he's on the floor," Walton said.
James practiced Thursday and Walton said he expected him to play against Brooklyn.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 35 points off the bench Tuesday, but Kuzma missed 13 of 17 shots to continue his recent struggles. He averaged 19.1 points before the All-Star break but is averaging 15.9 in his last 12 and shooting 37.4 percent in his last eight contests.
Russell scored 22 in Brooklyn's 115-110 win on Dec. 18 when the Nets withstood 36 points by James. Brooklyn is attempting to sweep the season series from the Lakers for the second time in four seasons.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 21, 2019