LeBron James finished with a game-high 39 points on Christmas day, nearly leading the Los Angeles Lakers back from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit, but ultimately fell short resulting in a fifth consecutive loss.
Guards James Harden and Patty Mills combined to score 70 points, enabling the Brooklyn Nets to hold on for a 122-115 victory over the Lakers on Saturday at the newly opened Crypto.com Arena.
The Nets improved to an Eastern Conference-best 22-9 on the season, while the Lakers dropped to 16-18 in the Western Conference.
Harden returned to the lineup from health and safety protocols recording a triple-double with 36 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, Mills finished with a career-high 34 points, making eight three-pointers for the short-handed Nets.
Brooklyn remained without forward Kevin Durant, center LaMarcus Aldridge, and guard Kyrie Irving due to health and safety protocols. Forward Bruce Brown had 16 points, guard DeAndre’ Bembry added 15, and forward Nic Claxton finished with nine points, six rebounds, and five blocks for the Nets.
“Until this is over, until we can get our full roster, I think the motto is, ‘find ways to win,’ and we’ve been doing that,” Harden said.
The Nets held a 38-23 lead through the first quarter but Los Angeles outscored Brooklyn 39-28 in the second, cutting the Lakers deficit to four, 66-62 at halftime.
James surpassed Kobe Bryant to become the all-time leading scorer on Christmas Day but admitted losing the game diminishes individual play.
“I don’t really care about the way I play if it comes in a loss,” James said.
“We can clone him. Do you know any good scientists? Can we make a duplicate? I don’t know,” Lakers interim coach David Fizdale said jokingly about James carrying the load for the team.
Los Angeles remained without head coach Frank Vogel and players in guard Austin Reaves, forward Trevor Ariza, and forward Kent Bazemore, all due to contact with the virus.
“I’m not a very patient person… But without our head coach, just getting guys back, still missing a few, I just try to stay even-keeled… No one is going to feel sorry for us,” James added.
Guard Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double with 13 points, 11 assists, and 12 rebounds but made just 4 of 20 shots on the night. Guard Malik Monk returned to the lineup and added 20 for the Lakers.
The Lakers recently signed forward Stanley Johnson to a 10-day contract and he was productive in his debut, playing solid defense and adding seven points and a steal in 27 minutes.
“It’s just doing my job. Just like any other day in the office… I’m just trying to be as useful as I can,” Johnson said.
Mills converted his second three of the quarter to give the Nets a commanding 100-82 advantage with 52.9 seconds remaining in the third but the Lakers were able to hang close going forward.
James scored 13 in the fourth and Monk scored 10 to get Los Angeles back in the game. Monk made a layup off a James assist to tie the game at 115-115 with 45 seconds left.
“He really gave us a huge, huge boost tonight,” Fizdale said on Monk.
However, on the next possession, Harden set up the play of the night when he threw a lob pass to Claxton, who slammed home the and-one dunk over James with just over 40 seconds left to retake the lead, enabling the Nets to capture a 122-115 victory.
“We just as mad as everybody else, man, probably even more because, like I said before, we all know what we got to do,” Monk said. “And sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t, and we’re not going to win like that and everybody knows it.”
The Lakers will next travel to take on the Houston Rockets on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.