LOS ANGELES — Brook Lopez hit six 3-pointers and scored a season-high 34 points against his former Brooklyn teammates, and rookie Kyle Kuzma had 21 points and 13 rebounds during his first career start in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 124-112 victory over the Nets on Friday night.
D’Angelo Russell had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in his first game against the Lakers since they traded him to Brooklyn last summer in the four-player deal that brought Lopez and Kuzma to Los Angeles.
Lopez, the leading scorer in Nets history, had 23 points in the second half and added 10 rebounds while the Lakers stayed comfortably ahead of Brooklyn, which has lost four straight. Jordan Clarkson added 19 points and Brandon Ingram had 18.
Allen Crabbe scored 25 points for the Nets in the opener of a five-game road trip, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 21.
Lopez had spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Nets before the trade, becoming the top scorer in franchise history while leading the Nets in scoring during each of the past five seasons. But the 7-foot North Hollywood native will be a free agent next summer, and Brooklyn shipped him home after he put up 20.5 points per game last season.
While most Staples Center fans paid attention to the still-popular Russell’s return, Lopez calmly posted his biggest offensive game yet for his new team He hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter, and punctuated the performance with a series of ferocious dunks in the final minutes.
Russell was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft and the cornerstone of the Lakers’ rebuilding project under former bosses Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. When owner Jeanie Buss replaced the duo with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka last year, Russell was shipped off to Brooklyn four months later along with high-priced center Timofey Mozgov, who had five points in his return.
Before his return game, the 21-year-old Russell declined to criticize Johnson or the Lakers, saying he enjoyed his time in LA. He was greeted largely by warm cheers during pregame introductions.
“I went through a lot while I was here,” Russell said. “Their job is to do what they can do best for the organization, and for me to move on, that’s what they felt was best. Can’t complain about that.”
Johnson made the deal to clear Mozgov’s onerous contract off the books for the Lakers’ pursuit of top-tier free agents next summer, but also to clear a path for rookie Lonzo Ball, his preferred choice as the team’s new point guard and cornerstone. After the trade, Johnson also made comments that appeared to be critical of Russell’s leadership ability.
“I would say it ruffled a few feathers, but you control what you can control,” Russell said of Johnson’s comments. “He’s in a position to say what he wants, so I’m going to do what I can do.”
Ball got more attention during the summer, but the Lakers’ most impressive rookie has been Kuzma.
The University of Utah product took another big step in his ascendant career with the Lakers, who appear to have a steal in the player Brooklyn selected with the 27th overall pick and then immediately traded to Los Angeles.
Given his first chance to start after Larry Nance Jr. broke his hand in Portland on Thursday night, Kuzma responded by scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first half.
Nets: Russell is only 20 months older than Ball. … Lopez returns to Brooklyn on Feb. 2.
Lakers: Nance will be sidelined for four to six weeks after surgery on Friday. He had started Los Angeles’ first eight games, making steady contributions on both ends of the floor. … Ball had six points on 3-of-15 shooting and seven assists.
Nets: Visit the Phoenix Suns on Monday.
Lakers: Host the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday before heading out on an East Coast road trip.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.