Extra Pass: Irving, Nets look to pounce on superstar-less Lakers

Published January 30, 2023, 4:00 PMPolo Bustamante

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What’s up with the LA Lakers?


The Lakers were so close to a major upset win over their rivals, the Boston Celtics in their last game.

The end of regulation of that game was a controversial one where LeBron James was fouled attempting a potential game-winner. The game went into overtime where the Lakers eventually lost to the best team in the league.

Even though they lost, there were still some positives to take away from the game.

James continues his streak of unbelievable basketball. Against the Celtics, he scored 41 points, hauled down nine boards and dished out eight dimes. That’s his fourth 40-point game in a month where he’s averaging 34-9-8 on 50 percent shooting. Those would be great numbers for a 28-year-old. James is 38.

Another positive sign from the game was Anthony Davis’ increased workload. The Brow is slowly making his way back into game shape after missing more than a month due to foot injury. He shot only 40 percent in the loss to the Celtics but managed to play 34 minutes after only playing 26 minutes in his first game back from injury.

Of course with this being the Lakers, the good also comes with the bad.

Russell Westbrook is having a rough four-game stretch where he’s only managed a little over 12 points on 32.3 percent shooting. Rui Hachimura is still finding his way around his new team, while the rest of the Lakers remain inconsistent.

Time is running out for the Lakers. James is playing like an MVP, while Davis is getting healthy enough to back him up. That’s not enough. They’re in a deep hole and they need everyone else to pitch in if they want to climb their way into the play-in tournament. Especially with James and Davis out against the Nets.

What’s up with the Brooklyn Nets?

You know who’s having a great stretch as well? Kyrie Irving.

Irving started off slow after Durant was sidelined with a knee injury. But in the past six games, he’s scored no less than 30 points, including two 40-point bangers. During that stretch he’s averaging 36.3 points and 7.8 assists to lead the Nets in KD’s absence. 

The Nets are 3-3 in the same span. Which is better than the three-game losing streak they went on right after Durant was ruled out. Overall, Brooklyn has slipped from being the second-best team in the East to the middle of the pack.

While Irving is doing everything that he can to keep the Nets afloat, the rest of the team has yet to cobble together numbers that could make up for the loss of Durant. It’s difficult to replace nearly 30 points per game but consistency in production should help the team figure out what works and what doesn’t while Durant is out. That hasn’t been the case as Royce O’Neale, Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, TJ Warren, and Cam Thomas have all been inconsistent in the past nine games.

That’s why their past win against the New York Knicks is something the Nets can build on moving forward. Irving did the heavy lifting with 32 points and nine assists, but several players stepped up to help their superstar. Nic Claxton had 13 points and 12 rebounds while Joe Harris scored 16 on four triples. O’Neale and Curry scored 14 points apiece to round out the starters’ solid production.

If the Nets want to stay away from the play-in tourney, everyone has to do their part to fill in the void left by Durant. They don’t need to do much. Brooklyn just needs to tread water until KD returns. Facing a superstar-less Lakers team should allow everyone to spread their wings a bit further.

Storyline to watch out for

This is where the Hachimura trade comes into play. With James and Davis out, Hachimura can freelance more on offense. He can now showcase the full breadth of his offensive game with all the touches available to him.

Hachimura can prove to his new team and the rest of the league that the Lakers did make the right move by acquiring him. He can show just how much of a weapon he can be once fully utilized by his new team.


This is just a matter of talent right now. 

With James and Davis both out, the Lakers look like a lottery team compared to the Nets who will still have Irving to lead them. LA has shown that they can win without James and Davis once this season. But the performance of the team in that game seems more like an outlier rather than the norm. 

But, this match-up now becomes a bit more exciting since the possibilities are opened up. Can the wounded Lakers pull an upset over the wounded Nets? It’s possible, but not likely.