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James Harden scores 23 as Nets blow out Lakers in LA, 109-98

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It doesn’t rain that often in LA but the Nets made everyone at Staples wear galoshes as they poured it on Thursday night.

Without Kevin Durant, the Nets put on a show under the Staples Center lights, blowing out the Lakers, 109-98, in an all-around team effort as five Nets (two off the bench) finished in double-figures. At one point, the Nets led by 25.

James Harden, who scored a team-high 23 points to go along with six rebounds and 11 assists in 38 minutes, was followed by Joe Harris, who had a breakout game from deep, hitting 6-of-7 threes to finish adding up to 21 points in 30 minutes while Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot led the bench crew with 15 points in 27 minutes off the bench, nailing a career five threes.

“Just got open shots. Shot them with confidence and hard work pays off always,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said on his shooting night.

The Nets extended their current winning streak to five games — four on their West Coast road trip — while improving to 19-12 on the season and 8-7 on the road. With the loss, the Lakers fall to 22-8.

The Nets complimented their offensive firepower with some solid defense, holding the Lakers to 26.7 percent from three in the win.

“It’s a non-negotiable if we want to reach our best levels,” Steve Nash on the Nets putting together a consistent streak of good defensive performances. “We have to buy in. We have to understand what we are trying to do, what our principles are, make clean reads and decisions, and play together down there. The guys have improved and turned the corner but now, we are at least cleaner with our decision-making, connections with one another, and starting to have little stretches in the game where our defense hasn’t struggled.”

The Nets had a slow start to the first, shooting 1-of-7 from the field, but settled offensively once Harden got going with a set of threes and contested drives to the basket. While Brooklyn’s offense started to flow, their defense struggled with the Lakers backdoor cuts defensively leading to a Steve Nash timeout with 2:28 remaining.

Following the timeout, the adjustments were evident while their offense continued to settle in with Luwawu-Cabarrot serving as an early x-factor. Brooklyn ended the first on a 13-4 run while shooting 57.1 percent overall, 55.6 percent from deep, and a 31-24 lead.

With Brooklyn’s offense consistent, the Nets opened the second with solid defense and holding the Lakers to only three points over a near four-minute span. As the second progressed, Harris heated up and delivered a pair of threes making him the quickest Net player to hit 100 threes in a season (31 games) in the process. Although the Lakers offense picked up in the closing minutes, the Nets still headed into halftime with an 11-point lead shooting 54.8 percent overall and a hot 52.4 percent from deep off 11 made threes while recording only seven turnovers.

Brooklyn carried their offensive firepower over to the third but again the difference-maker was the defense. The Nets not only held the Lakers to 21 third-quarter points but forced seven turnovers. The Nets outscored the Lakers, 26-21, in the third, heading into the fourth with a 16-point lead.

As Brooklyn began the final 12 minutes of play up 16, the Nets did not let their foot off the gas on either end, closing out the game with an 11-point victory. As a team, the Nets finished the win shooting 49.4 percent overall and 46.2 percent from deep. Brooklyn recorded 13 turnovers in the process.

Holding the Lakers under 100 points (just barely!) was worthy of some modest celebration for Brooklyn’s defense.

“It’s about time. It’s about time we turn the corner defensively,” said Kyrie Irving. “No team is gonna win anything in this league if they don’t get stops. It’s about time. We heard them loud and clear the last couple of games. And it is one of our points of emphasis when we go into games is just stay connected no matter what. Stick to the game plan. We trust it. We’ve talked about it. So just go out there and play, and play free and execute it. But we’re going to hold each other accountable.

“I know you see on TV or when you’re watching: We’re pointing at each other. But that’s what we need to stay engaged for certain guys. We need that level of grit. It’s okay to get angry on the defensive end and be physical in the league. We’re not friends with these guys trying to win. So, let’s just keep going.”

The game also saw the debut of Andre Roberson, the 6’7” defensive specialist who got in during garbage time and played for a little more than four minutes, recording a rebound and a block. He wore No. 22. The other defensive specialist signed by the Nets, Iman Shumpert, was in uniform but he like Kevin Durant is recovering from a hamstring strain.

Steve Nash provides Kevin Durant injury update: ‘There is no timeline still.’

Prior to Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Steve Nash provided an update on Kevin Durant, who has missed the last three games due to a mild left hamstring strain.

Nash said there is no timeline set for the Nets superstar’s return but the teams performance staff wants to see improved strength while noting there will be a few other progressions before he is available to play.

“I think what they want to see is improved strength,” Nash said. “Usually when you have a little injury like this, there is a strength deficit and until you have that strength back, it’s not necessarily safe to resume play. There is a few progressions he has to meet but other than that, we just got to monitor it and see how it goes. The positive thing is that he has had a few days of rest now and is improving but there is no timeline still on when we’ll see him again.”

Now, check out some film.

The Film Room

Brooklyn’s drive-and-kick machine was a well-oiled monster in Los Angeles. Brooklyn nailed 18 threes on the game, 11 of them occurring in the first half. The Lakers rotations were uncharacteristically off, which I’m assuming has to do with the loss of Anthony Davis. He is, after all, the Lakers do-it-all bandaid, who can cover for mistakes while giving his teammates the confidence to play aggressively on defense. Regardless, with the Lakers making basic errors, the Nets eagerly took advantage of the opportunity and ran the offense out of the corners.

I tweeted it during the game: You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT help from the strongside corner against James Harden. He’s too good of a passer –– arguably one of the three-best passers in the league –– to give easy opportunities with a shorter distanced pass. The Lakers did this in the second quarter and were immediately served a Joe Harris three-point bomb in their grills.

The play below is just a masterful find from Kyrie Irving to Tyler Johnson in the corner. Notice how Irving waits until the last possible to draw in the help (Talen-Horton Tucker) before flicking that thing to TJ.

Brooklyn has shot 49% during the West Coast road trip. Against the best defense in the league, the Lakers, those strong shoot numbers didn’t falter in the slightest.

Harris on a streak of streaks

We’ve written a lot on Joe Harris lately, but Joey Buckets is on a roll. He shot 6-of-7 from deep Thursday and now over the last five games is shooting close to 60 percent, to be precise, 58.1 percent, from deep. For the season, the 29-year-old is now shooting better than 50 percent and is the best 3-point shooter in the league. And after Thursday, he’s No. 5 on the all-time list at 43.7 percent, having passed Steph Curry. He’s only 11/100ths of a percentage point behind Drazen Petrovic. (Yes, we keep writing it because it is so extraordinary.)

Post-game, after a video gig with TNT, Harris spoke about how the Nets loss to the lowly Pistons on February 9 was a big turning point for the team.

“I think after our game against Detroit obviously it was a game in which we struggled really badly on the defensive end and it was sort of, not a breaking point,” said Joe Harris, “but it just happened pretty repeatedly up to that point and I think after that game just the level of focus, the attention to detail and the intensity on the defensive end has really ramped up and it started with that Indiana game.”

KD meme game is strong

Wearing a brand new hoodie, with a wrinkle press still showing, Kevin Durant became a meme machine when after another stunning James Harden drive to the rim, he adopted a WTF look, or WTH if you prefer. We liked it.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving had some fun with LeBron James, his former teammate, whose free throw shooting percentage has dropped this season to just over 70 percent. So when LBJ went to the line to shoot a technical for illegal defense, Irving had some fun.

When you win, the trolling is always better.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will return back to action on Sunday, February 21 when the team again plays under the Staples Center lights, once again, against the Los Angeles Clippers. The game is set to tip at 8:00 p.m. ET and will be nationally televised on ESPN. Then, it’s back home to Brooklyn where for the first time this season, some fans will be in the building to watch the Nets and Kings battle.

For a different perspective, check out Silver Screen and Roll, our sister site on SB Nation covering the Los Angeles Lakers.