Lopez Lights Up Former Team in Win Over Nets
Four months ago, a franchise-shifting trade brought Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma to Los Angeles, while D’Angelo Russell was sent to Brooklyn.
In the first meeting between the Lakers and Nets since that exchange, L.A.’s acquisitions put on a show in a red-hot, 124-112 victory.
Lopez — who spent nine years with the Nets and became the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring and blocks — was unstoppable in his first game against his former team.
The 7-footer racked up 34 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, torching the Nets with his 3-point shooting.
Lopez had struggled to find his range to begin the season, but he splashed six 3-pointers, including four in an electric third quarter.
When he hit his zone, some his shots even had head coach Luke Walton yelling “Why is he shooting that?!” to his assistants before they fell through the net.
In addition to his marksmanship, the 29-year-old punished Brooklyn’s small-ball defense in the post.
That blend of outside-inside scoring (and his presence on the boards) led to Lopez finishing the night with the Lakers’ first 30-point double-double since Kobe Bryant three years ago.
“When you have the talent level that Brook has, and you’ve been in the league long enough,” Walton said, “you can anticipate a player of that level having a big game against his old team.”
It was also a special opportunity for rookie Kyle Kuzma, making his first career start in place of Larry Nance Jr., who is out 4-6 weeks with a fractured finger.
With the team flying in from Utah at 2:30 a.m. that same day, Walton felt that Kuzma — whose draft rights were acquired from Brooklyn in the Lopez-Russell trade — offered the best chance at a strong start.
“We needed energy from the get go, and Kuzma always has energy,” Walton said.
The 22-year-old provided that and more. Like he has all season, Kuzma dusted slower defenders with his straight-line drives, scoring 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
He also hauled in a season-best 13 rebounds while playing 39 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.
According to Lopez, Kuzma’s success has been a blend of “talent plus confidence.”
“His game really complements pretty much anyone he’s playing with,” Lopez said. “He’s that kind of guy.”
The Lakers also received a third double-double from Brandon Ingram, who scored in a variety of ways to end with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Fittingly, all three of the Lakers’ top players on this night were the ones who extinguished a potential Brooklyn comeback.
The Nets had cut L.A.’s lead to four with only four minutes remaining, and the purple and gold decided to go back to feeding Lopez.
He rewarded them by facing up against the smaller defender, then powering to the block where he hit a right-handed hook shot.
It was Ingram’s turn on the next possession, as he wound up with the ball and the shot clock winding down. But the sophomore maintained composure and pulled up for a bucket just inside of the paint.
Then Kuzma iced it by contesting a Brooklyn 3-pointer before leaking out for an easy layup on a full-court pass from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
D-Loading in the Building
On the heels of a 33-point outburst in his last game, most everyone at STAPLES Center was wondering what Russell would do in his first matchup against his former club.
The former No. 2 overall pick had a nice start but tailed off, concluding with 17 points on just 8-of-24 shooting, though he did add seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
“It was a little weird, but it was just us competing between those lines,” said Jordan Clarkson, who had 19 points. “He’s still a friend of ours. We still communicate throughout the summer, throughout the year.”
Russell also contributed to his team’s rough night from 3-point range (9-of-38), while the Lakers took advantage of Brooklyn’s league-worst defense.
L.A. (4-5) scored 68 points in the paint against the Nets (3-6), as Lopez elevated a 9-of-21 mark on 3-pointers.
Lonzo Ball had six points (3-of-15), five rebounds and seven assists. … Allen Crabbe (25 points) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (21) led the Nets. … Timofey Mozgov, who was traded alongside Russell, had five points and four rebounds. … A sold-out crowd of 18,997 packed STAPLES Center.