LOS ANGELES — The Lakers needed to dig deep to beat a young Orlando Magic team on Monday night, and D’Angelo Russell stepped up to the challenge. Russell scored 28 points on 10-14 shooting to help lead the Lakers to a 106-103 victory and bring them back to .500, a mark that took the Lakers 74 games to reach last year.
While Russell had plenty of clutch threes and nice mid-range finishes paired with some impressive ball handling, it was his first-quarter dunk that surprised and awed fans. It started with Russell passing to Anthony Davis on the wing and Davis handing it off to Russell in rhythm, going downhill at full speed.
Russell took that momentum and the pick from Davis to get a clear look at the basket and slammed the ball home over Paolo Banchero, who tried to help from the weak side but could not stop the flush and ended up being put on a poster.
Lakers analyst Stu Lanz exclaimed “You don’t see D’Angelo do that very often!” for quite the understatement. After the game, Russell gave his thoughts on the slam.
“Surprisingly, D’Lo dunked the ball,” Russell joked. “I always make small bets with my teammates and things like that. I always say ‘I dunk when it matters’ and things like that. But, I don’t know. It took me a lot to find myself and make my mind up to even attempt a dunk, especially with him trying to contest it.
“I can honestly say I got lucky. I want ya’ll to put that out there, ‘He got lucky,’ so guys continue to try me and we’ll see what happens. Nah, I’m just playing. I got lucky, though, for sure.”
The dunk was a delight and a rarity, but Russell has been consistently good on both sides of the ball during the early parts of this season. Fans might want everything figured out now, but Russell, a nine-year vet, understands this is a long process.
“I’ll continue to stress it but what you guys see is a team figuring it out,” Russell said. “This isn’t the product we’ll be in a month or two from now. Every game matters. Every crunch situation matters. Every practice matters. So, we’re figuring it out.”
They’ll have to “figure it out” next against a Clippers team on Wednesday the Lakers haven’t beaten in 11 straight games.
Although given that they reportedly traded for James Harden very late on Monday night, perhaps this is the perfect time for the Lakers to win one over their local rival.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.