LOS ANGELES — D’Angelo Russell’s homecoming to Los Angeles went about as well as his first stay ended.
Back in Staples Center for the first time since the Lakers traded him this offseason — and team president Magic Johnson repeatedly questioned his leadership — Russell admitted for the first time that those words stung. But he vowed to take the high road and hoped to respond with a win.
He didn’t get it.
The Nets lost 124-112 to the Lakers before a sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center, many of whom booed Russell throughout. And instead of Russell it was ex-Net Brook Lopez who got some get back against the team that traded him away.
The Nets’ all-time leading scorer, Lopez had been the face of the franchise. But despite wanting to play his entire career as a Net, they shipped the veteran center and a first-round pick to Los Angeles for Russell and Timofey Mozgov. In their first meeting since, it was Lopez and Kyle Kuzma — the rookie that draft pick became — that got bragging rights.
With big men Trevor Booker, Jarrett Allen and Quincy Acy all out because of injuries, the Nets essentially had just Mozgov and little-used Tyler Zeller to play the post. Lopez wasn’t showing any sympathy.
He scored a season-high 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Lopez blocked shots, went to the floor for a loose ball, wrestled with two Nets to give Kuzma a lane to the basket, and showed no matter what lines he and Russell spewed from the Crash Davis School of Clichés, this was not just another game.
Kuzma — the third-highest scoring rookie in the league this season and a clear steal with the pick the Nets’ sent the Lakers — added 21 points, and the Nets let Los Angeles shoot 51.1 percent from the floor.
Russell had 17 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, but didn’t get the victory he was after.
“Yeah, you always want to play great. But winning’s the main focus at the end of the day no matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the matchup is,” Russell said before the game.
“I’d say [Johnson’s criticism] ruffled a few feathers. But you control what you can control. He’s in a position to say what he wants, so, I just try to do what I can do at the end of the day … It’s all said. I can’t really do anything about that now. I just try to take the high route on that, and control what I can control in situations like that.”
The Nets (3-6) need to get control of their situation. They have dropped four straight, including Friday’s opener of a daunting five-game West Coast swing that could very easily sink them deep into the standings early in the season.
Allen Crabbe had a team-high 25 points on 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. But he was the only Net to distinguish himself, the rest of the team shot a dreadful 5-of-30 from deep. Russell was 1-for-8 in a vexing return.
The Nets were within 40-39 midway through the second quarter when they allowed a 15-3 run. It got bookended by Lopez and Kuzma. Lopez began it with a conventional 3-point play and Kuzma, capped the spurt with a strong drive to the basket for a 55-42 cushion with 3:22 left in the half.
The Nets trailed 74-59 after consecutive 3-pointers by Lopez when they made their last legitimate rally to try and get back on in the game. A basket by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (21 points, five boards) capped a 10-2 run and got the Nets within seven with 6:55 left in the third quarter, but the Lakers answered.
The Nets got it to 110-104 with four minutes left, and DeMarre Carroll had a putback to get them within four, but no closer.