The Lakers should have coasted to their third consecutive home win, easily overpowering the struggling Brooklyn Nets in front of a home crowd.
Instead, the Lakers assigned themselves a much bigger challenge and ultimately couldn’t overcome the Nets’ spirited second-half surge.
Brooklyn rolled to a 130-112 win Friday night at Crypto.com Arena as the Lakers shot a miserable 29% during the fourth quarter.
The Lakers (21-22) opened with quick pace, sharp passing and hot shooting to mask a tepid defensive performance in the first half, but they opened the third quarter flat and could not pull out of the ensuing nosedive.
Mikal Bridges hit a three-pointer with 8:50 left in the third to cap a 14-6 Nets run and give Brooklyn its first lead at 76-74. The Nets (17-24) increased their advantage from there, the lead swelling to as many as 23 points.
“They started to make a run and we just kind of fell apart,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Just felt like we got disappointed in some calls we should have gotten that didn’t go our way, they made shots, we slowed down, started holding the ball, becoming indecisive. And the result was what it was. Talk about the tale of two different halves. That first half was what we’re working toward … coming out of the last two games, last two wins. The inconsistency showed up, reared its head, in the second half.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves and make excuses. We saw the same people that put together that first half, same ones that allowed that second half. We just have to decide which team we’re going to be.”
LeBron James looked ageless in the first half, delivering a poster dunk and a barrage of deep three-pointers to the delight of the crowd. He backed down defenders for shots in the paint and finished contested layups with ease.
The Lakers, however, mirrored James in the second half, during which nothing he touched seemed to fall. He complained to a referee about contact during a miss in the paint and was hit with a technical foul with 11:11 left in the fourth quarter. Two possessions later, Christian Wood missed a three-pointer and James missed twice from close range after hustling for offensive rebounds.
The Nets suffered no such trouble.
While the Lakers’ second-half field-goal percentage plummeted to 34% with 6:51 left in the fourth quarter, the Nets’ was a healthy 59% and the team pushed its lead to 19.
Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 26 points, while James finished with 24 and D’Angelo Russell added 20.
Cam Thomas opened the game on fire and led the Nets with 33 points on 13-for-18 shooting.
It was a particularly frustrating finish after the Lakers posted two quality wins against Oklahoma City and Dallas, appearing to finally shake off a slump that led to deep frustration and questions about Ham’s job security.
James and Davis suggested there was confusion and miscommunication, at times, in the second half on defense Friday, and that translated to poor finishing on the offensive end.
Ham said it’s taking time to work through such issues because so many players are working through injuries and general soreness that it’s difficult to hold practices and shootarounds.
But the team can watch tape and he plans to make sure the group relives Friday night’s letdown, highlighting the best and worst of the team’s performance.
“You look at it, you show it on film, you look at it, you address it with the group,” Ham said of the second-half meltdown. “We’ve had a few of those this year and we normally respond well from it and this is no different. You take all the good, bad and the ugly and you show it to them and try to get better from it.”
Davis said the team has started strong in multiple games, resolving a festering issue, and needs to continue the trend with a strong effort coming out the halftime break.
“Come in locked in,” he said.
James, meanwhile, said he plans to make the most of a day off before the Lakers regroup to host the Portland Trail Blazers (12-29) Sunday.
“Watch NFL playoffs tomorrow,” James said when asked how to avoid a hangover from the Nets loss. “That’s what I’ll do.”