The Lakers will meet a familiar foe in Tuesday’s play-in game, both in terms of on-court and off-court involvement, in the Minnesota Timberwolves. On the court, the Lakers and Wolves met three times this season and twice in the final month. Off the court, the two sides were part of the season-changing trade for the Lakers.
Each of D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley are former Wolves, but the latter two were dealt last summer as part of the Rudy Gobert trade. Russell was traded directly from Minnesota to the Lakers at the deadline.
While he’s had a chance to go back to Minnesota and play since the trade, Tuesday will still be a game that carries a fair amount of weight and emotion to it, and not just because of it being a play-in game.
After Sunday’s win over the Jazz, Russell spoke about a revenge game against the Wolves on Tuesday.
“I mean, not the fact that they traded me has anything to do with it but the fact that they’re in the way of what we’re trying to get done,” Russell said. “That’s all that really matters to me, honestly. Trying to prepare mentally now for that because, obviously, it’s a big game that matters and dictates a lot. Just trying to get that win by any means.”
This is the latest example of how mature Russell has become in his approach to the game. While we all correctly criticize Byron Scott and Magic Johnson for trading Russell when they did and criticizing him for his lack of maturity on his way out — lofty expectations for a player as young as D’Lo was — there is a marked difference in his approach to the game now and then.
The obvious answer to that is the experience he’s gained in his career and just simply being an older person that is naturally more mature. His approach to the game now is a pretty big contrast to what it was fresh out of college and it’s a welcome approach given what’s at stake for the Lakers in the coming week(s).
Part of the experience he’s gained on the court came in last year’s play-in games. Remembered mostly for Patrick Beverley celebrating on the scorer’s table, D’Lo played in the contest and scored 29 points with six assists, five rebounds and three steals.
“It’s an all-or-nothing type of Game 7,” Russell said of the play-in game. “All the marbles. If you don’t get it done, you go home. Simple as that. So, you see guys playing extremely hard. You see coaches coach extremely hard. Everybody’s trying to do their job to the fullest to get the win because, obviously, it matters. Simple as that.”
In that same game, Vanderbilt pulled down 10 rebounds and helped hold Paul George to 10-24 shooting while Malik Beasley had 12 points and six rebounds off the bench. Despite having a new-look roster, the Lakers have a host of experience in this game.
Tuesday will have plenty of emotion to it, but the Lakers have been playing in pressure-packed games for weeks and have come out ahead more often than not. Doing that one more time will result in a postseason berth once more.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.