LOS ANGELES — Facing a Lakers team with the fewest wins in the league and without LeBron James was supposed to be simple. But the Nets don’t do simple.
The Nets started Sunday shorthanded. They finished it decimated and defeated, taking a 116-103 loss before a crowd of 18,040 at Crypto.com Arena.
After blitzing the Clippers on Saturday, the Nets ran out of gas on the tail end of this back-to-back. They ended the third quarter down by three but were outscored, 36-26, in the fourth — and dominated by Anthony Davis all night long.
“I knew going into it we spent a lot of juice from the Clipper game,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “It was going to be a task for us to deliver that same juice. I thought the guys gave effort and gave what they had.”
It wasn’t enough. Kevin Durant had 31 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. But with Kyrie Irving missing a sixth straight game and Seth Curry a late scratch, they shot just 7-for-27 from 3-point range.
Ben Simmons was also a late scratch, and they lost starting center Nic Claxton to an eye contusion in the third quarter. They got roughed up and worn out by Davis, who poured in 37 points and 18 rebounds, both season highs.
“We were playing in spurts. It was a perfect storm for them: they made a lot of shots, they got to the rim, the AD pick-and-roll was tough to stop,” Durant said. “I like how we fought, got back into the game and third quarter. We had a chance to win, but they made more shots down the stretch than us, just plain and simple.”
With James nursing an adductor injury, he hasn’t faced Durant since Christmas 2018.
“I wasn’t thinking about it till y’all start bringing it up. … I guess it’s cool that we’re still relevant at old age that people want to come watch us play,” said Durant, who wasn’t shedding any tears for the Lakers (3-10). The Nets have issues of their own.
“No. I mean, they played great without him. Usually, he’s a load to deal with. We need wins lately, so to have them off the floor was supposed to be an easier game, but they played great.”
The Nets trailed, 53-39, after a cutting layup by Pat Beverley with 1:49 left in the half and still trailed by nine at the break.
Davis had 16 points and 11 boards at intermission, and the Nets never found an answer for him. It only got worse with the loss of Claxton, who took a blow to the face and left the game with the Nets down, 62-50, and 8:32 left in the third. He gave way to Markieff Morris and didn’t return.
The deficit swelled to 77-61 on a 3-pointer by Lonnie Walker IV with 3:56 remaining in the third. That’s when the Nets mounted their last serious rally. They closed the period on a 16-3 run. It included a wacky delay of game with 9 seconds left — and the Nets actually in possession — and a Royce O’Neale 3-pointer to make it 80-77 to end the third.
But the Nets never got over the hump in the fourth. They were down just 91-87 after Durant free throws with 8:27 remaining before a 15-2 Lakers run, including seven points by Walker and four from Davis.
“I didn’t even know what the hell happened on that [delay]. They said three plays before that we had stood up on the bench a little too long. I guess they’d told us to sit down, and that was our second warning. So the people that pay a lot of money behind our bench, they’re valuable to the NBA, so we can’t get in front of them,” Durant said wryly. “You can’t stand up and get in front of them, or you’re going to cost us a point. So we got to be more conscious of that.”