The longest winning streak in the NBA belongs to the Brooklyn Nets. And it was D’Angelo Russell — playing for just the second time against the Lakers team that kicked him to the curb — that led them there.
Russell looked like the leader his old team doubted he could be — and like the building block the Nets hoped he could become. He spurred the Nets to a 115-110 victory Tuesday over the Lakers at Barclays Center, a sixth straight win.
That streak is the longest in the league and Brooklyn’s best since 2014-15, and came with co-owner Joe Tsai watching on again as his Nets improved to 14-18.
Russell and Lonzo Ball will be linked in many fans’ minds as the past and present point guards of the Lakers. Russell had a team-high 22 points and a career-high tying 13 assists Tuesday, while Ball fouled out with 23 points and six assists.
Spencer Dinwiddie had 18 points and six assists off the bench, while Jarrett Allen blocked a dunk attempt from LeBron James, only the ninth time in King James’ career that’s happened in 1,850 tries, according to ESPN.
James had a game-high 36, but it wasn’t enough for the Lakers (18-13).
The Nets trailed 54-49 after James’ drive with 3:10 left in the half. But the Nets, who often have struggled with finishing out quarters and games, closed on a 13-3 run. Dinwiddie’s driving layup with just 3.7 seconds left sent them into the locker room up 62-57.
The Nets eventually padded the lead out to 79-65 on an and-one by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (17 points) midway through the third quarter.
And after a brief Lakers spurt, the Nets answered with a 10-4 run, Dinwiddie’s basket making it 100-87.
That’s when the Nets conceded six straight points to see the lead quickly cut to seven, and it shriveled all the way to 104-102 on a Kyle Kuzma 3-pointer. But Joe Harris (19 points) finally stopped the bleeding, and Jared Dudley made it 108-102.
Ball’s 3-pointer cut it to 108-105. But Dudley, who made a host of savvy plays down the stretch, hit a long turnaround 2-pointer as James merely watched, putting the Nets up 110-105 with 53 seconds to play.
Russell’s clutch 3-pointer pushed it to 113-107 with just 22.1 seconds left. After James’ 3-pointer, Hollis-Jefferson added a free throw, and James put up an airball.
“I just think of D’Angelo as a Net, that’s it,” coach Kenny Atkinson said before the game. “He’s progressing at a good pace for a 22-year-old player. Obviously we’d love to see more consistency from him, but that’s normal for a young player.
“He’s had some great games. He’s taken a step forward from last season. I think he’s on this natural progression. Where he goes from that, it’s impossible to predict the future. But young guys that’ve been in our program, they’ve continued to develop, continued to get better. He’s obviously a very talented guy and we love the progress we’re seeing so far.”
With the quantum leap Russell has shown lately, it looks like he’s making good on his second chance and growing into the player the Nets hoped he could be.
Inconsistency is part of the reason the Nets didn’t give him an extension before the season, but if he can smooth out the ups and downs, he could earn a deal this summer and maybe become a foundation piece to attract other free agents.
“He’s a very talented player. Watching the last few games, he’s like most young players that work hard, their skills get better, they get more consistent,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of his former guard. “He’s scoring the ball, his mid-range game is really hard to stop, he’s tough, he can go both directions. I’m happy for him to see that progress still happening.”
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