Nets torn by exhausted Lakers as Kyrie Irving gets kicked out

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Many saw Saturday night’s Nets-Lakers clash as a preview of the NBA Finals. But it had no resemblance to championship basketball.

When the teams inquired, there were already three superstars missing. A fourth moved out when Kyrie Irving was sent off at the start of the third quarter. And in the end, what was left of the defending champion Lakers beat what was left of the Nets, 126-101, before 1,773 disappointed fans at Barclays Center.

League refereeing has come under scrutiny at times this season, and it will be again after Irving and Lakers playmaker Dennis Schroder was sent off for the first time in 18 Combined NBA campaigns, for what seemed nothing more than typical on- court nibbles at each other.

Kevin Durant led the Nets with 22 points, and sent off Irving scored 18 in 21 minutes. But that wasn’t the only reason the Nets (36-17) lost this one. They did not need any help from the officials to do this. For the root cause of this defeat, they only have to look at themselves in the mirror.

Kyrie Irving and Dennis Schroder are separated by their teammates in a heated exchange in the Nets' 126-101 loss to the Lakers.
Kyrie Irving and Dennis Schroder are separated by their teammates in a heated exchange in the Nets’ 126-101 loss to the Lakers.
EPA

The Nets were playing without MVP candidate James Harden, with a strained hamstring. But they faced a Lakers team that not only superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed, but Kyle Kuzma and Marc Gasol as well.

It didn’t matter: the signatory of the buyout, André Drummond, was enough for the Lakers.

“It would be a great challenge for us [facing them healthy]Nets coach Steve Nash said. “Obviously the addition of Andre gives them size and a great center, but at the same time I think the reason the Lakers were the champions last year is because AD is the better center. smallball and LeBron is the best smallball four, at least in the playoffs last year.

“I think it just gives them options, depth and another side. If they want to go big, they have another guy who can do a lot of stuff in the middle. Choose your poison. They would be great with the smaller version of their front area or the larger one.

There was a lot of lamentation from small market GMs when the Nets hit the buyout market to land big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. But Griffin finished with just two points, while Aldridge was bullied much of the night by Drummond (20 points, 11 rebounds).

Drummond was so physically dominant that Nash tried to avoid even using young, resilient but slender Nic Claxton. And while the opportunity seemed to call on DeAndre Jordan, the 6-foot-11, 265-pound player remained out of the rotation and on the bench for the fifth straight game.

The Nets allowed 50.5 percent of shots – 19 for 34 from a 3-point distance – and eight Lakers scored in double digits, including Schroder, who had 19 in just 20 minutes.

The Nets were vastly outclassed early on, trailing 11-2 after a 3-point Schroder with 9:33 left in the first quarter.

Drummond isolated himself on Aldridge, working his way inside to reduce the Lakers’ lead to 18-7. The Lakers have hit seven of their first eight – 3 of 4 deep – and the tone was set for the rest of the night by a team not looking to the future.

“Honestly my mindset is to try to win [Saturday’s]) game, really. It’s nothing more than that, ”said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “We are not looking on the road.”

At one point, Drummond struggled with four Nets for a rebound, with Irving even rushing to do it five to one. It doesn’t matter. Drummond circled him anyway, because the Nets were beaten on the boards early on.

With the Nets losing 49-39 midway through the second quarter, they rode a 17-3 run to take the lead. A comeback from Durant tied him to 52-all with four minutes left in the half.

Durant crossed paths with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and dived on Drummond to give the Nets the lead. This allowed Durant’s mother, Wanda, to stand up to applaud in the front row. Aldridge topped the run and gave the Nets a 56-52 lead.

They couldn’t hold it back.

As the Nets barely trailed 66-62 and 9:41 left in the third, Irving and Schroder started chewing each other and the two were kicked out.

Leaving the floor, Irving tossed his jersey to the fans as he made his way to the locker room. He took the momentum of the Nets with him.

The Nets immediately gave up a 22-9 run and fell behind 88-71. He continued to grow from there in the fourth as the Nets imploded.

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