Lakers embrace challenge facing streaking Brooklyn Nets

L.A. plays six of their next eight games at home before All-Star break
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Asked about the daunting task of playing the Brooklyn Nets -- with the dynamic scoring trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Erving and James Harden -- Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James answered with a question of his own.

“Have we forgot about KD, Steph and Klay already?” James quipped, referring to the Golden State Warriors formidable threesome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant that won back-to-back NBA titles. “There you go right there.”

So yes, James has faced a talented trio like the Nets present. Still, it will be his first opportunity for his Lakers to size themselves up to a potential NBA finals matchup this summer to one of the Eastern Conference powers in the Nets.

At 18-12, Brooklyn enters Thursday’s contest on a four-game win streak, while the 22-7 Lakers have won eight of their last nine games. The lakers now play six of their last eight games at the Staple Center, starting Thursday night in a prime-time contest against the Nets, at 7 p.m. local time Thursday on TNT.

Of course, each team will be without one of their best players. The Lakers will be missing Anthony Davis, out with a calf strain. While Durant will miss Thursday’s contest due to a hamstring issue. Irving (back) is expected to play against the Lakers.

“It’s always exciting for me to go against the best guys in the game, and they’ve got three of them,” James said about the contest. “They’ve got three of the best guys in the game. You’d definitely love to be at full (strength) when you’re playing against a team like that, to see at that point in the season where you match up, and how you match up against some of the best teams in the league.

“Obviously, we won’t be full on Thursday. But other than that, I love going out there and being on the floor with some of the best to play this game.”

The Lakers played their first game knowing Davis will be out an extended period on Tuesday. Kyle Kuzma started in place of Davis, and after a slow start the Lakers found their rhythm and won going away against the lowly T-Wolves, 112-104 on the road. The Lakers are 5-1 without Davis this season.

“We wanted to have a deep team this year because we weren’t sure about what kind of COVID losses we would have from time to time,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. “Obviously, with the short offseason we knew that was going to be a concern with potential injury. I like what we have to go to war with in this stretch where we’re going to be without Anthony Davis. You’ve got to have a deep team, and we’ve got a lot of guys on this roster I believe in. We’re going to have the mindset that we’ve got to win every time we take the floor.”

Added James: “It’s next man up, and we’re not expecting one person to try and pick-up AD’s (Davis) productivity. Nobody is going to be able to do that. He’s brings too much to the table, but we all can do more. We all can collectively do more, and that’s our job.”

Along with new additions in Marc Gasol, Dennis Schröder and Wesley Matthews, big man Montrezl Harrell has been an offensive catalyst for the Lakers.

Harrell’s the fourth-leading scorer on the roster and top points guy among the reserves, averaging 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a contest.

At 6-7, Harrell said he’s not concerned having to guard bigger guys with Davis out of the lineup.

“I don’t really believe in that smaller stuff because at the end of the day if you believed in that then the elephant would be the king of the jungle,” Harrell said. “And that ain’t happening. I come out here and put my hard hat on like everyone else. Everybody on this team knows that I’m not one to back down from nobody -- I don’t care what your size is and I don’t care what you do.”