LOS ANGELES- D'Angelo Russell was literally letting the ball fly from the second he walked onto the court at Staples Center before the Lakers 125-118 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Julius Randle was still warming up on the Lakers basket before the game, and Russell was up next for his turn to shoot with coaches. But when a ball bounced towards the rambunctious guard on his walk towards the bench to wait his turn to warm up, he couldn’t resist letting it fly into from well outside the three-point line.
The shot bricked right in the middle of Randle’s workout, but it was one Russell’s last misses for a while. The full extent of what the Lakers hope Russell could be was on display against the Brooklyn, and the second-year guard finished with a season-high 32 points on a team-high true shooting percentage of 73.5 percent to go with eight rebounds and four assists.
"I was making shots early,” Russell said. “Teammates found me, I give a lot of credit to Julius and other teammates that really found me and were looking for me when I was making shots."
After screaming about the ice in his veins towards the end of his career-high 39 points against the Nets last year, some might have expected a slightly more brash statement from Russell, but the 20-year old guard let his play do the talking against Brooklyn.
Russell’s game was yapping early. The second-year point guard hit the first five of his six first quarter three-point attempts, and assisted or scored on the Lakers’ first sixteen points.
"I think he likes playing against Brooklyn,” joked Jordan Clarkson. “It’s good to see him catch a rhythm like that. Make shots and hold us together as a team.”
Key in allowing Russell to do so was his use of screens from center Timofey Mozgov. Whether on or off the ball, Mozgov’s picks showed why Russell loves playing with him enough to call him the best center in the NBA.
It was Mozgov who Russell used as an impediment to get free for a spot-up three on his first points of the game:
“Timo is a big, big player, he's fundamentally sound. He sets good hard screens, and rolls. Him getting shooters open is a big part of our offense,” said Lakers head coach Luke Walton.
Mozgov put that ability as a dive man on display for an early dunk when the Nets had Lopez stay in front of Russell to contain him:
Russell was the engine that made the whole thing go, but Walton was impressed with more than Russell’s offensive outburst against the Nets.
“He was active on defense, which was what I was most impressed and happy with. It feels like every time he has one of these big games, he starts the game making plays for us on the defensive end,” Walton said. “The shots are gonna fall some nights, some nights they're not, but we'll take it. I'm more impressed with the way he got after it defensively.”
Russell got after it to tune of three steals, and was noticeably trying to get his hands in the passing lanes all night while making fairly solid rotations. The confluence of factors led to arguably the biggest development of the night: Russell getting to close out the game.
Walton has said throughout the season that whatever players are playing best will be in the Lakers’ closing lineup, a philosophy that has frequently led to Lou Williams finishing games in favor of Russell.
That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, and Russell helped lead the Lakers to victory with five points in the final frame, including shooting over Nets’ backup point guard Yogi Ferrell like he was a chair in an empty gym:
The all-around performance was exactly the type of game the Lakers are surely hoping to see more consistently from Russell, even if he doesn’t quite match the scoring output he always seems to manage against the poor Nets.
“What does he have against Brooklyn?” Larry Nance, Jr. told Silver Screen and Roll when asked what he was thinking as Russell came out on fire against the Nets once again. “Last year he had his whole coming out party with the 'ice veins' thing, and this year lit them up again. Hopefully he can carry that over to some more teams and kind of leave Brooklyn alone for a little bit.”
All quotes obtained firsthand, and all stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.