Sunday was all about what could have been, even if the Lakers won 116-103.
The Lakers and the Nets helped reshuffle the future of the NBA in the summer of 2019, the Nets adding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Lakers pairing Anthony Davis with LeBron James.
Surely, these teams would play the most meaningful games, with some of the most talented players to ever play in separate conferences. Those odds, certainly, only increased when the teams added James Harden and Russell Westbrook, respectively.
If they could’ve stayed healthy, if the teams could’ve avoided the off-court drama, the flawed free-agent signings and the wrong trade targets — this could’ve been a Finals rematch or, at least, a preview.
But since the Lakers dealt for Davis and the Nets added Durant and Irving, the teams have never come close to meeting in the Finals. Instead, they’ve become cautionary tales for roster builders around the league, reminders that fit and function might not matter as much as talent, but they still matter.
Sunday, with James and Irving out, the Lakers and Nets again met, both heading into the night under .500, both still hoping that the team they’ve been isn’t going to be the team they could one day become.
Despite all the reasons for hope to be abandoned, the Lakers put together the kind of win they need to build on, snapping their second five-game losing streak of the season.
Davis was as dominant as he’s been all year, scoring 37 and grabbing 18 rebounds, feasting against Brooklyn’s smaller, weaker interior. Lonnie Walker IV, in his second game back after missing two with an illness, gave the Lakers plenty of outside-inside punch, hitting four threes and slashing to the rim with minimal resistance for 25 points, his fifth game with at least 18 points.
Austin Reaves, a new addition to the starting lineup, scored 15 and Russell Westbrook played better than his shooting numbers would suggest, scoring 14 with 12 assists and six rebounds.
The Lakers never trailed in their most consistent performance of the season. Brooklyn had won four of their previous five games.
The Nets, playing for the second time in two days in Los Angeles, were without Ben Simmons and Seth Curry in addition to Irving, who the team suspended for his failure to disavow antisemitism.
Kevin Durant led the Nets with 31.
James missed his second-straight game with a strained groin, though there’s optimism he could be back in time for the team’s next game Friday against Detroit.
“Him being out is just as much about precautionary,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “…There’s 70 games left to be played, and here we have the schedule, a favorable schedule in terms of him straining his adductor where he can sit. And now we have four days without a game and he continue to rehab, and continue to get stronger, and prepare to come back
“… We can feel good about that knowing he’s had these days to be rested, to not put any pressure on it, but to strengthen it, treat it to get it to the point where he’s able to get back out there.”
The Lakers could also get guard Dennis Schroder and center Thomas Bryant back this week after both underwent thumb surgeries this preseason.