LOS ANGELES — The Nets faced a gut check.
And finally found those guts.
Brooklyn earned a stunning come-from-behind 130-112 victory against the Lakers before a sellout crowd of 18,997 at Crypto.com Arena, one that — at least temporarily — broke their worst slump of the season.
“I don’t think it’s ever been about effort for our group. The ability to be mentally tough throughout the course of the game is something that’s been challenging for our group,” Jacque Vaughn had said beforehand. “And because of the ebbs and flows, there’s going to be plenty of opportunities.”
They finally took theirs, led by Cam Thomas’ game-high 33 points off the bench.
He led an attack that broke out to shoot 52.6 percent overall and 19 of 47 from deep.
Coming into the midway point of the season, the Nets (17-24) had dropped 14 of their past 17, and dropped right out of not only the Eastern Conference playoff race but also out of the play-in.
Concerns had gone from standings to just staying together, avoiding the fracturing and finger-pointing that happens on teams playing this badly.
The first half of their season was such a struggle, even Mikal Bridges had to sum it up with a four-letter word.
“I’ll say poor. To our expectations and our standards, very poor,” Bridges had admitted. “Thought we’d be way better. We were good at one point and were trending in the right direction; obviously it wasn’t great in the beginning, but we were starting to trend the right way and then went downhill. So I’ll say poor.”
Then came Friday. When they traded in poor for perfect.
The Nets erased a 12-point deficit, turning in a brilliant 29-11 third quarter run to storm back and beat LeBron James, Anthony Davis & Co.
Yes, Thomas turned the tide, the youngest Net to crack 30 against the Lakers since Keith Van Horn in 1998. Center Nic Claxton added 22 points and a game-high 14 rebounds to keep Davis from wrecking the game.
But make no mistake, this one was a complete team effort.
Brooklyn blitzed the Lakers 68-44 after intermission, matching the fewest points they’ve allowed in a second half this season.
Watching their own defensive failings lit a fire under the Nets.
“For sure,” said Lonnie Walker IV. “We know what we’re capable of doing. So sometimes when we don’t play to that capability, it sure as hell bothers us. And it just starts with just being accountable, holding each other accountable.”
After losing four straight and nine of 10 — earning just a single victory over a team other than Detroit since Dec. 13 — the Nets seemingly looked in the mirror and finally decided to do something about what they saw staring back.
Or more apt, they sat through the film and fixed what they’ve been putting on it.
Brooklyn trailed by as much as 56-44 midway through the second quarter on an and-one by James (24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists).
They were still down 70-64 on a midrange jumper by Davis (26 points, 12 rebounds) less than a minute into the second half.
But that’s when the Nets mounted that 29-11 run — including nine unanswered points — to change the game.
Spencer Dinwiddie (19 points) capped it with a 3-pointer off a Mikal Bridges feed to give the Nets a 93-81 lead with 3:24 left in the third.
They built the lead to 23 in the fourth.
“I’ve just got to get in how I fit in, and just try to start the game off very efficient, very high, so it can rub off on my teammates,” Thomas said. “I feel like when I start off well, we have good energy, we all get pumped up. So I’ve just got to find a way to lock in.”
They return to Crypto.com Arena for a Sunday matinee against the well-rested Clippers, and ex-Net James Harden.