The Brooklyn Nets have been feasting on Western Conference teams this season, going 8-3 in 11 matchups and 6-0 against teams currently in a playoff spot.
The successful run continued in a comeback victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night when James Harden fueled a Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant-less Nets with 38 points, 11 assists, and seven rebounds.
Now their west-coast swing takes on a completely different challenge on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET) as they meet the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers, who will be without half of their “Big 2” as Anthony Davis suffered a calf strain and aggravated the Achilles tendinosis in his right leg Sunday.
It leaves just LeBron James and the Lakers’ supporting cast to meet the Nets, where it remains to be seen if the “Big 3” will be intact as Irving (back) and Durant (hamstring) deal with day-to-day ailments.
James is no stranger to Big 3’s having spent his Miami Heat days alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh before a return to Cleveland featured epic finals clashes against the Golden State Warriors’ deadly trio of Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson.
So he’s not necessarily ready to crown Irving, Durant, and Harden as the best trio the NBA has seen.
“Um, have we forgot about KD, Steph [Curry], and Klay [Thompson] already?” James said. “I mean, there you go. There you go right there.”
Regardless, it provides yet another challenge to the transcendental superstar that continues to thrive in his 18th NBA season.
“It’s always exciting for me to go against some of the best guys in the game and they got three of them,” James said. “They got three of the best guys in the game. Definitely would love to be full when you’re playing against a team like that and see, like, at that point in the season, how you match up, how you match up against some of the best teams in the league. And, obviously, we won’t be full on Thursday. But, other than that, yeah, I love going out there and just being out on the floor with some of the best to play this game.”
While James is best known now as the driving force behind the Lakers on the offensive end of the floor, it’s Los Angeles’ defense that is the second-best unit in the NBA.
“We know who they have over there,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said. “We know how well they’re coached and what they’ve been able to do in the last year or so. So it’s a great test for us. You load the guys up and be ready to go and try to keep getting better.”
Against a strong defense, the Nets’ third-worst defense in the NBA will have to step up should their attack run into a roadblock in Los Angeles.
“Obviously, offensively we’re really, really good. Defensively, we’re not so great. So we have to find ways to be better in that category, which we all know,” Harden said. “So we’re working on that, and whether it’s the Lakers or any other team, that doesn’t get us excited because we’re still working on ourselves if that makes sense.
“Obviously, we understand that caliber of team we’re playing. But then, the whole situation is, we are working on ourselves.”