Led by a finally healthy Anthony Davis and a finally completely healthy LeBron James, the Lakers stormed out to a double-digit lead over James Harden and the short-handed Brooklyn Nets and never looked back, eventually winning 106-96 to improve to 24-24 on the season.
James looked as good as he has all year — which is saying something — finishing with a team-high 33 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, providing highlights all night long for a very Lakers-friendly Brooklyn crowd. It marks LeBron’s 18th straight game leading the Lakers in scoring as the 37-year-old continues his unbelievable tear.
In his first game since recovering from the MCL sprain he suffered on Dec. 17, Davis immediately made his presence felt, slamming down an alley-oop from LeBron and hitting his first jumper from the field for the Lakers’ first four points. He made an even bigger early impact on the defensive end, adding three blocks in the game’s first seven minutes. Russell Westbrook looked much more like the player the Lakers envisioned when acquiring him last July, as some of his best off-ball cuts of the season resulted in a 15-point performance for Russ with most of his damage coming around the rim.
Davis finished with 8 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds and 4 blocks over 25 minutes to end his 17-game absence, while Westbrook added 6 rebounds and 4 assists of his own.
"Tried to do it on the defensive end to help my team. Physically I felt fine, the knee felt fine." @AntDavis23 spoke with @LakersReporter following his long-awaited return to the #LakeShow. pic.twitter.com/vivLHZPw2W— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 26, 2022
Frank Vogel says he thought AD "really changed things" for the Lakers defensively tonight.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 26, 2022
When the Nets climbed back into the game in the third quarter behind Harden and Patty Mills — and with Davis on the bench with four fouls — James took over with back-to-back isolation jumpers to spark a 13-4 run, aided by a Malik Monk 3-pointer and a Westbrook and-one off a vintage James pocket pass.
After struggling to consistently maintain their effort this season amid ever-changing lineups— and usually with one of James or Davis sidelined — the Lakers came out energized behind their two best superstars. Monk had one of his strongest performances of the season, finishing with 22 points on a white-shot 6-12 shooting night from three-point range. Carmelo Anthony added 13 points off the bench as well. Austin Reaves only had 2 points but secured 5 of the Lakers’ 6 total offensive rebounds and added 6 assists in a phenomenal, hustle-centric performance.
But more importantly, the Lakers significantly upped their energy on defense. Aside from Harden’s 33 points, Patty Mills was the only other Net to reach double digits in scoring with 15 points. L.A. lived with Harden’s superstar scoring output and focused on neutralizing any help he may get from his teammates.
That approach was especially crucial in the fourth quarter, as the Lakers were able to keep a comfortable lead when their shooting went cold to start the period — and even extend it on back-to-back vintage breakaway dunks from The King in one of LeBron’s most memorable sequences of the season.
LeBron throws down back-to-back jams pic.twitter.com/YpxmMglm8o— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 26, 2022
It’s just one game, but it’s extremely encouraging to watch the Lakers look as comfortable as they have all season against a team many expected them to eventually face in the NBA Finals (at least during the preseason). Even though Brooklyn is obviously missing two of its three superstars with Kevin Durant out due to a knee sprain of his own and Kyrie Irving only able to play in road games due to his defiance of New York City’s vaccination mandate for the Barclays Center, this was still a really good win for L.A.
The role players won’t always shoot this well, but if James, Davis and Westbrook can look this comfortable playing alongside each other going forward, then Lakers fans may have a bit of reason for optimism as the team gears up for a desperate playoff run to salvage one of their most disappointing seasons in recent memory.
After a day off on Wednesday, they’ll face another tough road opponent on Thursday as they head south on the Acela Corridor to take on Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday. That game also has an early, 4:30 p.m. PT tip-off time, and will be broadcast nationally on TNT.