James Harden hot, but LeBron James hotter as Lakers top Nets

James Harden looked focused and all-in. But it wasn’t nearly enough.

The Nets got drilled 106-96 by the Lakers before a sellout crowd of 18,126 — many wearing purple and gold, rooting for the visitors.

The Nets (29-18) fell a full game behind the Eastern Conference-leading Heat. They are now a half-game behind Chicago, and even with defending-champion Milwaukee in a race that promises to be a dogfight.

On the same day reports surfaced about his dissatisfaction with several issues in Brooklyn, Harden had 33 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

But despite being among the best road warriors in the NBA, the Nets have failed to build a home-court advantage. Having lost seven of their past nine at Barclays Center, their 11-11 home mark is tied for the worst of any winning team. And Steve Nash had no explanation for their home woes.

Nets guard James Harden drives to the basket as the Lakers’ LeBron James defends.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“I don’t. I think you guys asked me this a couple weeks ago and I’m still unsure why we struggle at home. Obviously it’s disappointing, frustrating,” Nash said. “We play very well on the road for the most part and to have basically a .500 record at home is below our expectations so I’m not sure exactly whey that is but hopefully it’s something that we can cure the rest of this season.”

LeBron James had 33 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Malik Monk added 22, and Anthony Davis — in his first game since Dec. 17 — anchored the defense that smothered the Nets. But James was the star, hardly dimmed by his advanced age.

“To be honest, I think we take it for granted. We’re just so used to him just rolling out every year and being an MVP candidate and being one of the greatest players we’ve ever seen,” Nash said. “You take a step away and you recognize how unique he is, how difficult it is to be playing at the level he’s playing at this stage in his career.

The Lakers' LeBron James reacts on the court during the first quarter of a game against the Nets on Jan. 25, 2022.
LeBron James
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“But day-to-day I don’t even really consider it, because we’re just so used to him rolling out there and being one of the top players in the game but also like a pretty close version to his best, even at this stage of his career. … He adds to his game, he develops other things and he’s still able to have an incredible amount of athleticism and durability with all eyes on him. We definitely take for granted the greatness at this stage — this late stage — of what would be beyond most people’s careers.”

On the very first play of the game, James threw a perfect lob to Davis for a dunk. Just 18 seconds into his return, Davis made the Nets feel him.

After an all-too-passive fourth quarter in Minnesota, Harden came out aggressive in this one. The Lakers gave him space and he used it.

Harden drilled a step-back 3-pointer on Davis, and had 11 points and two assists out of the gate, the Nets leading 15-12.

Brooklyn was still clinging to a 23-21 edge when they yielded an extended 21-6 run that tilted the game for good.

Some sketchy defense by James Johnson opened the door for James to beat the first-quarter buzzer with a driving layup and give the Lakers a 33-25 edge after one. Harden had scored or assisted on every Net basket except a lone Johnson put-back, and when he went to the bench for his first rest, the Nets got outscored 9-4 to open the second.

Carmelo Anthony’s 3-pointer made it 42-29 before Harden returned, and Brooklyn never saw the lead again.

The Nets trailed 45-31 on a corner 3 by Monk.

Brooklyn was still down 69-58 before Harden sparked an 11-2 run, his free throws with 6:32 left in the third pulling the Nets within 71-69. But no closer.

For the Lakers (24-24), Davis made his comeback from a sprained left MCL. The Lakers had been 7-10 without him, but in his first action since Dec. 17, he gave them a lift.

Joe Harris was in Indianapolis on Monday getting a second opinion on his ankle, according to Yahoo. The veteran wing suffered a setback in his comeback from Nov. 29 surgery.

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