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Poetic: DLo, Nets knock Lakers out of playoffs with 111-106 win in L.A.

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Checkmate. (Or as DLo might say to his Kiwi GM this summer: Check, mate?)

When the Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell in 2017, his name was trashed and his leadership was questioned. That same D’Angelo Russell left Staples Center on Friday, an All-Star leading the up-and-coming Brooklyn Nets into the playoffs.

Something the Lakers cannot say.

The star-studded return for Russell was nice and all, but the only thing that mattered was that they got a much-needed win against the Lakers. For the Nets, it was their second straight victory, 111-106, which puts them 2 12 games up in the standings at 38-36, and they eliminated the Lakers from playoff contention in the process, too. LeBron James hasn’t missed the postseason since 2005!

Talk about poetic justice.

Russell was in foul trouble most of the night and committed six turnovers, but he made winning plays on both sides of the ball, finishing the night with 21 points, 13 assists and three steals. He didn’t force his game or try and make any splash in his return.

“It sounds good on paper (knocking the Lakers out), but we’re not competing against them for seeding. A win is good enough,” Russell said afterwards.

He and the Nets led by as many as nine several times throughout the night, but they failed to take advantage. They led 102-99 when Russell hit Spencer Dinwiddie in the corner for a three-pointer and six-point Nets lead, 3:15 remaining. Then, on Joe Harris’ 26th point of the night, the Nets sealed an 11-2 run —107-99 lead.

The Lakers never got it within three after that point. It wasn’t a pretty win by any means, but they got a crucial win — their second — on this brutal seven-game road-trip.

In Kenny Atkinson’s words: “It wasn’t a Picasso.”

The Nets couldn’t stop JaVale McGee. He finished with a career-high 33 points, 20 rebounds and six blocked shots.

“He’s Joe Cool, he’s just got a cool demeanor about him,” Atkinson said after the game about DLo. “Confidence, cool... I don’t know what that is. I know I don’t have it, I’m a nervous guy. He’s just cool, doesn’t get fazed. He’s one of those guys who really enjoy the moment.”

The key? Stopping LeBron James. He finished with a nice stat line of 25 points and 14 assists, but the Nets forced him to turn the ball over eight times and shoot just 8-of-25 from the field. DeMarre Carroll was vital in their defensive approach against LeBron — who turned the ball over with 22 seconds left in the game, down three.

From there on out, the Nets sealed the deal at the line, namely Spencer Dinwiddie who scored seven of Brooklyn’s final nine points — 19 on the night.

They shot 40 percent on the night and were out-rebounded by 12, but stopping LeBron and holding Los Angeles to 38 percent shooting was key. Harris was Brooklyn’s most efficient player of the night with 26 points on 6 three-pointers made. Ed Davis was phenomenal in his own return to L.A. with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

The Nets are 2 12 games up on the nine-seed Orlando Magic and two full game. up on the eight-seed Miami Heat. Their magic number is now six. A combination of Nets wins and losses by the ninth seed totally six and they’re in.

They have two more games on the trip — one against Portland and the final one coming against Philadelphia. With eight games left, all they need to do is weather the storm and they should find themselves in the dance come April.

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‘IT WAS ALL A DREAM...’

It’s no secret that D’Angelo Russell is on top of the world. After leading a historic comeback on Tuesday, Russell was on the cover of SLAM Magazine with a crown on his head entitled, “It was all a dream.”

The talk of the week has been Russell’s rise. Russell this, Russell that. After all he’s done, he deserves it. Some on ESPN praised Russell for how far he’s come. Clinton Yates on Around the Horn gave a unique perspective, stating how DLo’s success is a breath of fresh air for a league filled with unhappy players.

Others, such as Michael Wilbon on Pardon The Interruption, claimed that Magic Johnson “freed” Russell from LaLa land. Rubbish.

However they want to spin the story — it’s nice to see Russell (and the Nets) back in the spotlight getting the love they deserve. He is probably the most compelling Net player since Jason Kidd and/or Vince Carter.

And he’s only 23.

TEN PLUS WINS

Kenny Atkinson has said a 10-win improvement this season, from last year’s 28, was a good goal. Mission accomplished. The Nets are now at 38 wins.

Other milestones lie ahead. If the Nets can get to 40, it will be their first 40+ win season since 2013-14, the same year they had their last .500+ season. Getting to 40 would require them to win two of their last eight games. A .500 season would require three wins.

Nets are off Saturday but all two of their their three of playoff competitors —the Pistons and Heat— are playing. Detroit plays Portland and the Heat play the Wizards.

DLO; ‘I PLAN ON BEING IN BROOKLYN FOR A LONG TIME’

In a particularly open interview with USA Today’s Trysta Krick, D’Angelo Russell once again said his loyalty is to Brooklyn.

“I plan on being in Brooklyn for a long time,” said Russell. “You can forget about my Lakers days if I do it right. Make new headlines. That’s my goal.”

The Nets PG also contrasted the Nets situation, with its stability to the Lakers.

“It’s the type of organization that will trade you to bring in what they want,” he said of the operation Magic Johnson runs.

STOP WINNING, DENVER!

As the season winds down, it’s not just the playoffs still at stake. The Nets draft position is also yet to be determined. Currently, they have the 16th, 28th and 31st pick. With each win, the Nuggets, whose first rounder the Nets control, keep dropping in the NBA Draft.

Denver destroyed New York on Friday, 111-93, in their latest win. The Nuggets and Warriors are now tied for best record in the West. They’re 7-3 over their last 10, one game better than the Warriors.

KD TO EXPLORE BROOKLYN

In an intriguing development in Kevin Durant’s new three-part series entitled, “Fly By,” KD will take a virtual tour of three cities with three different players, starting with Quin Cook in San Francisco and ending with D’Angelo Russell... in Brooklyn.

Doug Zanger of ADWeek writes...

In the first episode, Durant and fellow Golden State Warriors teammate Quinn Cook explore their home city of San Francisco, visiting Mister Jiu’s restaurant and the legendary Hyde Street Studios in the Tenderloin... The Fly By series will continue with episodes focused on Los Angeles with Lakers star Kyle Kuzma and Brooklyn featuring Nets guard D’Angelo Russell.

Kenny Atkinson wanted no part in the discussion, aware of tampering issues.

“Oh, man, I had no idea about that first of all. Listen, I really don’t want to comment on it,” Atkinson said, careful to never utter Durant’s name. “There’s some players in this league who are friendly with each other, and if you want to get together and take a tour of Brooklyn, that’s great.

“Obviously it’s a great place to live: We all live there. I’m so proud of it that our staff and all of our players, except for [Jared] Dudley [live there]. … We love living there. I’m glad DLo is showing his friends around.”

But Caris LeVert thinks his teammate is an ideal recruiter.

“Everybody wants to play with a great point guard, a great floor general.,” LeVert said Friday. “That lessens the load for a guy like Kevin Durant or another superstar who wants to come play with us.”

And he took a subtle slap at the crosstown rivals...

“I don’t think superstars, especially Durant, want to be the one who has to carry the full load on his own... He definitely wants to go to a team that has a good core, has a good culture, has good guys on the team, and we fit all those.”

Watch this space, y’all.

DINWIDDIE’S KICKS

For another perspective, head on over Silver Screen and Roll, where Laker fans have a lot to lament, not just their sixth straight season without the playoffs and the loss of DLo, They have the worst record of any NBA team over the last five years.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

***

Next up: Portland on Monday, 10:00 p.m. ET.