On the heels of his worst game of the season, LeBron James will be in Brooklyn on Tuesday night to face the suddenly scorching Nets.
With LeBron and the improved Lakers in the New York area for the first time since King James landed in Los Angeles as a free agent over the summer, the Nets will be looking for their sixth consecutive win — following an eight-game skid — after erupting for a season-high 144 points in Sunday’s rout of the Hawks.
“Obviously, we know we’ve got the Lakers on Tuesday, and LeBron coming and all that,” veteran forward Ed Davis said after Sunday’s game. “But we knew we had to get this one first. We were locked in … and we handled business.”
The opposite was true Sunday for the Lakers, as James missed 11-of-16 shots and totaled a season-worst 13 points in a 128-110 loss in Washington without LA regulars Brandon Ingram (ankle), Rajon Rondo (broken hand), JaVale McGee (flu) and Michael Beasley (personal reasons).
The Lakers, who won’t visit the Knicks at the Garden until March 17, are 16-7 since beginning the season with six losses in their first 10 after James inked a four-year contract worth $153.3 million in July.
At 18-12, they are just two games behind Golden State in the Pacific Division, and fourth in the Western Conference, after missing the playoffs each of the past five seasons. One night before the dud in Washington, LA posted a 28-point victory in Charlotte, with James and point guard Lonzo Ball becoming the first pair of Lakers teammates since Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1982 to each record a triple-double in the same game.
“We just didn’t have our energy and obviously we didn’t have our depth,” James said after Sunday’s loss to the Wizards. “When you’re trying to expend energy and you don’t have a lot of bodies, it was just tough on us.”
Even without leading scorer Caris LeVert (leg), the Nets (13-18) have moved within two games of Charlotte and Orlando for the seventh and eighth playoff spots in the East. They have averaged 122.8 points during their five-game streak, and they also have been playing what Davis described as “unselfish basketball” with 34 assists in each of their past two wins.
“The assists, the ball moving, we’ve done a good job just putting teams on their heels, moving the ball, giving up good shots for great shots, the unselfish play. We talk a lot about just playing with the pass and I think we’ve done a really good job of that, particularly in our five-game winning streak,” Joe Harris said. “I think early on you look and we were leading a lot of tough games, just not able to close it out.
“But those experiences have helped us get to this point. Just getting over the hump for one of them, it started with Toronto [on Dec. 7], to get a little bit of confidence, your mental toughness, your confidence just to close out games collectively as a team is a lot higher.”
With starting two-guard Allen Crabbe also missing the past two games with a knee injury, rookie Rodions Kurucs has provided a boost to the starting lineup, averaging 13 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes per game.
“After Caris went out, I think we were playing a lot of new lineups, trying to find the right lineup,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think we’re starting to get some continuity with our lineups. I know Allen Crabbe was out, but we’re starting to get a second-unit identity.
“Obviously, Rodi has done a great job jumping into that starting unit, but I think we have guys in their right places and that helps a lot with understanding what we want offensively. … People are really sharing the ball. The 34 assists two games in a row, that’s high-level, making the extra pass. All of the stuff we’ve been preaching from the beginning.”
First-round pick Dzanan Musa suffered a left shoulder subluxation Sunday with the Long Island Nets of the G-League. He will begin rehabilitation immediately, but the Nets offered no time frame for a return. Musa has made seven appearance for Brooklyn this season, averaging 1.7 points in 3.7 minutes per game.