What was supposed to be a start-studded matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers lost some luster beforehand, as Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis both sat this primetime matchup out. This left LeBron James and a motley crew of role players like Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell to compete against Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Ultimately, despite 32 points on an efficient night from James, Brooklyn pulled out a 109-98 victory, moving to 11-1 against teams with winning records. Once again choosing to opt for a smaller lineup that features four players at 6-foot-5 or shorter, the Nets ran the Lakers out of the gym on Thursday night.
Brooklyn, who was going to go into this game with a size deficiency no matter what, decided to throw caution to the wind, run up and down the floor, and shoot as many threes as possible. The result saw the Nets drain 17 threes and put up 35 bench points, all the while seeing the much-ripped defense hold LA to under 100 points.
Did the Nets provide a roadmap that could help other teams beat the Lakers? Did the Nets themselves just prove they should be the favorites in a hypothetical Finals matchup?
The Nets’ small lineup was hard on the Lakers and created mismatches.
The main focus Brooklyn had in this game was attacking Gasol, as the lumbering defensive stalwart is not equipped to chase Brooklyn’s array of shooters around the perimeter for an extended period of time.
Gasol was a -6 in his 20 minutes on the floor, scoring just eight points and looking out of sorts whenever he was pulled away from the basket. the Lakers opted to start Markieff Morris, who is a bit more agile, over Gasol to start the second half. All that proved was that if Gasol gets sent to the bench, the Lakers are essentially playing with one hand tied behind their back.
Putting Gasol on the bench means that either Harrell, who is inferior on the defensive end compared to his offensive abilities, or Davis, who is better when he operates from the power forward position, will have to get reps at center. Brooklyn, and most other contending teams, would feast against that alignment.
The Nets proved that if they needed to lock down on the defensive end against elite teams, they are capable of doing so. With their offense humming and this new smaller lineup turning basketball games into track meets, Brooklyn might’ve inadvertently told the league how to take down James and the Lakers.
Now they’ll just have to prove it next time they face off when Davis is back in the lineup.