D’Angelo Russell was as cold as the ice in his veins in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 109-106 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Los Angeles Lakers’ sophomore point guard scored just 12 points on 21 shots and missed all nine of his three-pointers on the night.
Continuing to try and take over the game in the wake such struggles would draw criticism from some coaches as selfish, or even earn him a seat on the bench, but Russell is just doing what his coach wants him to do.
"I encourage him to keep shooting them if they’re open,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton told Bob Garcia of Sports Out West after the game. “A lot of them he was taking were wide open.”
Walton wasn’t wrong. Russell had copious amounts of space on many of his attempts, but it ultimately wasn’t his night.
“It’s just motivation,” Russell said of Walton’s encouragement on Spectrum Sportsnet following the game. “My teammates said the same, ‘keep shooting.’”
However, while Walton encouraged Russell to continue to be aggressive, he also conceded he’d like to see his young point guard put a bit more focus on playmaking on night’s like Tuesday. Russell agreed with that critique.
“I still could have found a way to get guys involved more,” Russell said. “I didn’t feel like I was trying to force it, but some of them I couldn’t pass up, they just didn’t fall for me.”
Russell and Walton seem to be taking the right approach. Russell eviscerated the Nuggets for 54 points on 33 shots, hitting eight threes to go with eight assists, and four steals over the weekend. He had reason to be confident heading into this game.
Still, Russell has only assisted on 20 percent of his teammates baskets while on the floor this season, a number that will have to improve if he wants to reach his full potential.
With that said, the media is a fickle beast, a reality Russell understands. If he had hit the potential game-winner he clanked at the fourth quarter buzzer, the headlines would instead all be about the glacial freeze running through Russell’s circulatory system rather than how many shots he missed.
“At the end of the day it looks bad,” Russell said. “But if we’d have got the win it would’ve been a different story.”
A preseason game means little in the grand scheme of things. Russell will bounce back, and he’ll probably find a better balance between playmaking and scoring eventually.
The main difference in the Lakers’ story from this year to last would appear to be that instead of engaging in a public cold war, the team’s head coach and potential franchise point guard are working to write a better ending to the next game together.
After Russell spoke to reporters, he popped into Luke Walton's office. Russell was self-critical of his game & eager to bounce back— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) October 12, 2016
All quotes per Spectrum Sportnset unless otherwise cited. All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.