D'Angelo Russell Drops 21 Points, Leads Nets Past LeBron James, Lakers

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMarch 23, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 22, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Joe Harris scored 26 points and D'Angelo Russell added 21 points and 13 assists as the Brooklyn Nets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 111-106 on Friday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Harris made six three-pointers for the 38-36 Nets, who have won six of their last nine.

JaVale McGee posted 33 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks for the 31-41 Lakers, who have been eliminated from postseason contention.

LeBron James, who had made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, contributed a near-triple-double with 25 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds:

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LeBron misses the playoffs for the first time since 2005 https://t.co/6F24Lcxwh4


Nets Are Last Team East Contenders Want to See

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers are all but certain to finish top three in the Eastern Conference standings. They'll match up with the sixth- through eighth-place teams, and the Nets are currently seventh.

Brooklyn should be the last team the East's top trio of contenders wants to see in the first round.

On a more subjective level, head coach Kenny Atkinson seemingly gets the most out of his team's talent, a collection of veterans and younger players with one star (Russell) and no superstars. The team chemistry is among the best in the league, as partially evidenced by the Nets' bench celebrations:

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The Nets bench celebration is A1 https://t.co/vbgRBdj4Jk

On more objective levels, this team could be a serious problem.

First, Russell is capable of willing the Nets to victory, as he did when he scored 27 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter of a 123-121 win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. He's also been dominant, posting 24.1 points on 44.3 percent shooting and 7.6 assists from Jan. 9 through Mar. 20.

Russell delivered again versus his old team on Friday, a performance sorely needed on a night when McGee nearly put the Nets away by himself. The ex-Ohio State star was clutch in the fourth quarter thanks to seven points and three assists.

He hit back-to-back threes to help the Nets keep pace with Los Angeles before Brooklyn eventually pulled away in the fourth. And the Nets did that in part because Russell dished consecutive assists to Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie for buckets, turning a slight 102-99 advantage into a 107-99 lead.

It did get a little hairy when the Lakers cut the deficit to three on two occasions, but the Nets needed the cushion Russell provided to seal the win.

Second, the Nets have proved to be a thorn in the side of some of the NBA's better teams. They swept the Denver Nuggets, who are second in the Western Conference. The Nets also have wins versus the 51-22 Toronto Raptors and 42-31 San Antonio Spurs, in addition to two victories versus the 47-25 Philadelphia 76ers (admittedly before their new core four was formed).

Third, the Nets have one of the NBA's better benches. Their bench is second in points per game, first in rebounding and tied for eighth in plus/minus, per NBA.com. If they play in a long, exhausting series, fresh legs off the bench can help put them over the top.

Fourth, the Nets are healthy, or at least healthier than they've been for most of the season. Only three Nets in the rotation (Harris, Russell and center Jarrett Allen) have missed fewer than 15 games. But Brooklyn has some key pieces back, namely Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeMarre Carroll.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson doesn't play as much as he used to, but he's come up in the clutch when needed, as evidenced by his game-winning layup versus the Kings.

The Nets are better than their 38-36 record shows: If they had their core intact for a greater part of the season, they'd be far closer to the top four in the East than out of the top eight.

Brooklyn isn't about to make a run to the NBA Finals, but the aforementioned factors could help its steal a series versus a team expected to contend for the Eastern title. We'll find out soon whether the Nets can conjure up the magic of their 1983-84 predecessors, who beat the defending NBA champion 76ers in the first round.


What's Next?

The Lakers will host the Kings on Sunday, and the Nets will visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.