Part of the Lakers resurgence in the final months of the season was the play of D’Angelo Russell. His return to Los Angeles has been akin to the prodigal son’s, helping lead the Lakers back to the playoffs after years away.
And that’s what made his performance against the Timberwolves on Tuesday all the more startling. Matched up against a side he certainly was familiar with, Russell struggled, to say the least. He was, effectively, a non-factor in the Lakers downing Minnesota in overtime.
D’Lo finished the night shooting 1-9 from the field, 0-4 from the 3-point line and managing just two points in 24 minutes. He did tally eight assists and three rebounds but ultimately was benched in the fourth quarter, only playing the 20-second possession for the Lakers that ended in Dennis Schröder’s go-ahead corner 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left.
After the game, head coach Darvin Ham was asked about Russell’s performance and offered nothing but support for his point guard moving forward.
“You’re going to have rough nights out here,” Ham said. “I have all the confidence in the world in D’Lo. We’re going to need him on this run that we plan to make, starting with Game 1 at Memphis. He’s just got to be able to snap back and bounce back. It’s a long season. Some nights are night going to be your night. Again, that’s why you try to fortify your roster with multiple players who are capable, once you call their number, they are able to not just gobble up minutes but get minutes and play at a high level and that just happened to be Dennis tonight.
“But make no mistake about it, we brought D’Lo here to come out here and be D’Lo and make plays,” Ham continued. “We’ll sit down here and watch film as a group and definitely communicate and just let him know that we’re going to need him. This may be a one-off...but he’s going to be in the thick, at the forefront of us having success in the postseason.”
Unfortunately, this is not unchartered water with Russell in the playoffs. Last season with Minnesota, he averaged 12 points on 33.3% shooting from the field in six postseason games. He put up bigger numbers in Brooklyn in the 2019 postseason, averaging 19.4 points but still only shot 35.9% from the field and 32.4% from the 3-point line.
In Los Angeles, the ask of him won’t be as great as it was in either of his last two stops in terms of offensive workload, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to produce for the Lakers to be at their best.
Tuesday did also show, though, that the Lakers’ newfound depth can help keep them afloat. With Russell struggling, Dennis stepped up in a huge way in the second half and helped the Lakers to the win.
The Lakers have the depth to be competitive without Russell, but the best version of the Lakers features Russell as a big-time contributor. Hopefully, Tuesday was a one-off and not the continuation of a trend and that Russell is able to continue his strong play in his return to Los Angeles.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.