The Los Angeles Lakers had the worst three-day stretch of their season this past week. On Monday, the team was on the wrong end of a beatdown at the hands of the Utah Jazz, with the 48 point road loss tied for the largest defeat in Lakers history.
Things were clearly in dire straits on the court, but the following night the team took a bigger hit off of it when ESPN reported that D'Angelo Russell's teammates were "isolating" him after a video he filmed showed Nick Young admitting to infidelity became public a week ago.
On Wednesday, Russell privately and publicly apologized to Young and the team, but their relationships appeared to need more time to mend. The Lakers were slated to take on the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, and while it would be unrealistic to believe any on court results could fix everything wrong with the team, they and their fanbase desperately needed a dose of positivity.
The Lakers' young core offered that and then some in an exciting 102-100 overtime victory over Miami. A Staples Center crowd that began the night booing Russell any time he touched the ball was left cheering for him and his teammates as they drove the team to as thrilling of a win as they've had all season.
Despite the result, Russell knew he still had a long way to go before earning the forgiveness of his teammates and a large contingent of vocal fans:
D'Angelo Russell: "I can't really show my face anywhere without people hating me right now."— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) March 31, 2016
The nature of fandom is fickle. Despite Russell's immature behavior, if he continues to show contrition for his actions combined with the potential he did on Wednesday night, that hate he referenced will fade like a Snapchat video is intended to.
According to Jordan Clarkson, things weren't as bad as initially reported and the team had already forgiven Russell for his mistake:
Jordan Clarkson also disputed the isolation/shunning reports by ESPN.— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) March 31, 2016
Jordan Clarkson said D'Angelo Russell apologized prior to the game & he said team accepted it & ready to move on.— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) March 31, 2016
Russell certainly didn't appear to be frozen out on the court against the Heat, and while his shot wasn't falling for most of the game (6-19 on the night), Russell came through when it mattered most, making both of his shots in overtime:
Russell sized up Goran Dragic, realized how little time was left on the clock, and fired. It was not a great shot, but it is the type that franchise players have to make at times when games grind down and the shot clock gets low. The Lakers only won their 16th game of the season on the night, but it's still an important step forward for Russell.
Russell was also able to use a screen from Brandon Bass to get Dragic on his back on this possession in overtime, and when Hassan Whiteside committed to stepping out on Bass, all Russell had to do was use his one more hard dribble to collect and finish around the basket.
Clarkson also got his chance to chip in during the extra period, zipping past Joe "Jesus" Johnson to resurrect the Lakers' lead on this play.
The Heat were really killed in overtime by their big men getting stuck in "No Man's Land" out of pick-and-rolls, not fully committing to the driver or the roll man, and on Clarkson and Russell's drives that allowed enough space for the Lakers' hoped for backcourt of the future to finish around the cup.
Clarkson also showed off his mid-range game in the extra period, using a crossover to create a quick free-throw line jumper to tie the game at 98.
After Clarkson and Russell did their damage, it was Julius Randle's turn. With the game tied at 100 following two free-throws from Randle and a Wade layup on the other end, the Lakers gave their sophomore forward a chance to play hero ball.
Randle saved the day, using a series of hesitations followed by his patented spin move to (in the shock of all shocks) get back to his left hand and finish with a soft floater over Dwyane Wade at the rim.
Randle's celebration might have been better than the actual move, and will also in all likelihood draw him a fine from the league office:
This rivals "Ice In My Veins" pic.twitter.com/kN032Ox1U7— I AM YOUR OG ANUNOBY (@JacobRude) March 31, 2016
He didn't get them swinging like Sam Cassell used to, but Randle was definitely pantomiming something along the lines of carrying a large sack of onions after that game winner.
After Joe Johnson missed a three-pointer at the buzzer on the other end, it was time for the young guys to celebrate:
This was the Lakers' 16th win of the year. The team is nowhere close to where it needs to be yet. Part of the reason there are no breakdowns of the Lakers' defense in the above clips is because they offered very little resistance to Miami, getting decimated by Wade-Whiteside pick-and-rolls like this one:
Despite those defensive deficiencies, the Lakers were able to win a shootout with a team boasting 27 more wins than they do. More importantly, they did it with the four players under the age of 24 on the floor, with that quartet going five-of-six from the field against the seventh most efficient defensive team in the NBA.
The Lakers were forced to very publicly deal with the downsides of having younger, immature players on a team full of adult millionaires over the last three days. The Wednesday night win over the Heat gave a glimpse of why the team hopes such trials will be worth it in the long run.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.