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Does the James Harden trade help the Nets catch the Lakers? – OCRegister


Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday, Jan. 13 edition of the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.


A 117-100 drubbing by the Lakers was the final straw in a frayed relationship for Houston and James Harden, who said Tuesday night, “I don’t think it can be fixed.” So the Rockets finally made the blockbuster trade that Harden was reportedly asking for, sending him to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team trade for a package that includes a ton of draft capital and former Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo as the central star back in return.

The part that Lakers fans need to know: The Nets now have Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. And the question on everyone’s mind: Is that good enough?

The Lakers (9-3 as of this writing) seem to be lapping the field so far. They’re undefeated on the road as of Wednesday morning, and the urgency they’ve played with can be best characterized as “half-speed.” LeBron James was probably being kind to himself when, after 10 games, he said the Lakers had been playing “B, B-plus basketball.”

And yet they’re still dominating: They’re tied for first in defensive rating (104.7 points per 100 possessions), sixth in offensive rating (113.5) and second in net rating (plus-8.8) only to the Milwaukee Bucks. Several of their weaknesses last season are now strengths: They’re shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range, and they have the sixth-highest scoring bench (40.1 ppg). They have the best record in the NBA, and it’s happening with James playing a career-low in minutes and Anthony Davis missing two of those wins.

So what exactly stirs the drink in the NBA when the Lakers are this dominant?

The Bucks have to prove they can win their own conference. Ditto for the Philadelphia 76ers, whose shooting woes still exist even as Joel Embiid has played well to start the season. The Clippers might have gained ground after an epic collapse last postseason, but they’ll have to wait until the playoffs roll around to prove it – and their makeover hasn’t been quite as dramatic as the Lakers’.

Sitting at 6-6 with Irving not sure to return any time soon, the Nets seemed to sense an urgency to shake things up, and bit into the biggest opportunity available: trading for Harden, who is still an elite scorer, who gets to play with former teammate Durant and former coach Mike D’Antoni and could conceivably vault Brooklyn into top Eastern Conference contender status.

How does it work? Finding enough ball time for three players whose usage was all over 28 percent in the last season they were all healthy. That assumes that Irving, the mercurial point guard who has missed every game since last Wednesday, comes back to the court and is invested – which might be a big assumption. But for a hypothetical sake, let’s say he’s back in the fold by month’s end.

Durant (29.9 ppg), Irving (27.1 ppg) and Harden (24.8 ppg) are all top-20 scorers and very capable 3-point shooters. Assuming Harden becomes invigorated by the trade and returns to playing shape, he can be much more dangerous than he’s shown in the last two games. The shooting and ability to score anywhere from the floor could make the Nets the best offensive team in the NBA, and all of their stars can pass.

Does it match up with the Lakers? Defensively, the Nets probably got worse by trading away rim protector Jarrett Allen and a few of their younger players on the wing. Durant is good defensively, but he can’t guard both Anthony Davis and James – and would he, being the team’s best scorer so far? It’s more likely that DeAndre Jordan defends Davis in a playoff scenario – and politely, he’s no longer in his prime.

Chemistry will be a question, given that all three stars have shown a moody side that has led to the disassembly of very good contenders: Irving in Cleveland; Durant in Golden State; Harden in multiple incarnations of Rockets teams. The Lakers, on the other hand, seem to be quite breezy with their chemistry, with almost everyone under contract and guys like Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder fitting in fine.

It’s hard to know how a new team meshes and matches up, but fortunately, we might not have to wait long: Brooklyn comes to visit Staples Center on Feb. 18, in a matchup that is sure to draw eyes. The Lakers have seemingly mastered how to defend Harden, but as one of three outside threats, it will be a much tougher chore. And as much as James and Davis will be difficult to guard, no one has ever really succeeded with Durant, a 7-foot cheat code.

The Lakers have the advantage (for now) of continuity, chemistry and the ability to compete on both sides of the ball. But the pure ambition of the latest NBA shake-up tells you this: The Nets want their shot at the crown, too, and they knew the status quo wasn’t going to work.

Not with the Lakers ahead of the field like they’ve been.

— Kyle Goon


Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.


Rocketing past the competition

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