Nets shrug off Jeanie Buss’ fierce Lakers message

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If the Lakers want to be crowned the too-early favorites for the NBA title, the Nets are happy to oblige.

After watching the Nets add James Harden via trade in January and, more recently, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge off the buyout market, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss had a message heard coast-to-coast: Bring it on.

“It brings out the best in us,” Buss said Monday on “Stephen A’s World” on ESPN+. “When teams identify us as the team to beat and they gear up to go at us head-to-head, that makes us work harder. So, bring it on.”

Nets coach Steve Nash, who played the final two seasons of his Hall of Fame career for the Lakers before retiring in 2015, didn’t exactly throw down a gauntlet in return.

“They are a great team, great franchise, defending champs,” Nash said. “So, they are the team to beat.”

Aldridge acknowledged he listened to pitches from other unspecified teams — the Lakers were in the mix but the Heat were considered the front-runners, according to Yahoo — before choosing the Nets. Asked directly if his joining a team that now has 41 career All-Star appearances on the roster was a message that he thinks it gives him the best chance to win a ring, Aldridge side-stepped championship expectations.

Lakers
Jeanie Buss
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But are the Nets the NBA’s villains, as other super-teams have been?

“I don’t follow any of that stuff,” Aldridge said. “If you’ve followed me during my career I don’t really read clippings and all those types of things. I had no clue about it. Just here to play basketball. I’m older, so it’s an opportunity to be on a winning team and bring some things that I think can help — and that’s all it is.”

The Nets beat the Lakers once and the two teams square off again April 10 in Brooklyn. But even that game might not be a true measuring stick if show-stoppers Kevin Durant (hamstring) and LeBron James (ankle) are not back by then. Kyrie Irving has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup and Anthony Davis hasn’t played for the Lakers since Feb. 14.

“I don’t think we do anything necessarily picking out a team,” Nash said. “We just try to improve every day, in-house and with our player personnel. They [Lakers] have been fantastic.”

The Lakers seemed to check the Nets in the arms race when they signed Andre Drummond this week. Griffin, Aldridge and Drummond are the three biggest names who had their contracts bought out by their former teams and became free agents available to contenders.

The Lakers seemed to check the Nets in the arms race when they signed Andre Drummond this week. Griffin, Aldridge and Drummond are the three biggest names who had their contracts bought out by their former teams and became free agents available to contenders.

In addition to playing without Davis and James, the Lakers were without Marc Gasol for a stretch and then kept him on a minutes restriction due to COVID-19.

“What’s important, is they get back healthy — 100 percent healthy — before they come back,” Buss said, “so that they stay healthy for the playoffs.”

The irony is neither the Nets (32-15) nor the Lakers (30-17) are in line for a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The 76ers entered Wednesday with a half-game lead in the East and the Lakers are in fourth in the tightly compacted West, trailing the Jazz by 5.5 games.

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