Instead, he's strung together some of his best basketball of the season.
On Tuesday, the Lakers had a tough task ahead of them, trying to beat the Los Angeles Clippers on the road — sort of — while LeBron James sat due to a left ankle injury that head coach Darvin Ham said has him day-to-day.
The Lakers could've folded against a star-studded Clippers lineup and chalked it up as being short-handed. In a season filled with awful losses, no one would've batted an eye at a bad loss against a good team without your best player.
That wasn't Russell's approach. He was determined to kickstart things for the Lakers.
"Exactly that (mindset)," Russell said postgame. "LeBron's out, try to fill the void and help the team get a win."
He came out aggressively, shooting 50% from the field in the first half, scoring 15 points. Anthony Davis, his pick-and-roll companion, followed his leadership and added a team-high 18 points to help the Lakers score 64 by the break.
Now, the Clippers were even better, shooting 66% from the field and were up by 13 at halftime, but that wasn't from a lack of trying.
Second quarter points for the Lakers:— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) January 24, 2024
Rui dunk (D'Lo assist)
Reddish dunk (D'Lo assist)
The Lakers’ two best players were putting up a fight and doing their best to match a Clippers team that has four players that can score 20-plus points on any given night and, on this particular game, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard did just that while three other Clippers ended the night with 17.
In the third, the Lakers got back into the game, with Russell being the catalyst.
He started the frame by scoring the team’s first seven points and scoring them in every way imaginable; from the charity stripe, from deep and inside the paint.
He continued orchestrating the offense and while he wasn't putting on a showstopping display on defense, he wasn't breaking. The Clippers' mantra is "give no quarter," but the Lakers finally got one in the third, outscoring their rival 42-35 to enter the fourth down by nine.
Russell had his hands on the majority of scoring possesions in the fourth. He had back-to-back dimes to Wood, then a mid-range bucket which brought the deficit down to four. This run wasn't fool's gold, the purple and gold had a chance to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat with the King absent.
The Clippers had a fastbreak opportunity following this offensive onslaught by the Lakers and Harden appeared to have a clear lane to the basket to extend the Clippers lead. Russell turned on the jets and recovered to meet him at the rim. He used his angles, kept himself in front of Harden and squared up and stuffed the future Hall-of-Famer at the rim.
D'Angelo Russell with the BLOCK on James Harden pic.twitter.com/CuvmXGddNT— Ahn Fire Digital (@AhnFireDigital) January 24, 2024
The crowd erupted with a mix of excitement, bewilderment and appreciation for Russell's efforts.
He has every excuse imaginable to be dogging things with an impending trade. He could have a nonchalant "not my problem” attitude with James missing. But instead of waiting and quiet-quitting as a lame-duck guard, he's stepping up and giving more than what is fair to ask to help this team win games.
The Lakers got within two after a Russell jumper in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers went on a 9-0 run immediately after and put the game out of reach for good with Leonard hitting free throws as the Clippers fans in attendance showered him with "MVP" chants.
Lakers fans have come to know the competitor Russell is, so it’s safe to assume he's likely unfazed by a good game in defeat. But he did do something he's never done for the Lakers and that's score 25 points along with 10 assists in a game.
Who knows what the future holds for Russell in Los Angeles.
He certainly feels like one of the Lakers players most likely to be moved and with the Feb. 8 trade deadline fast approaching, we may be seeing the end of his Lakers tenure.
We often discuss appreciating greatness as fans. To not take legends for granted. Now, while Russell isn't at the stature of a Kevin Durant or LeBron, he has been a staple for Los Angeles throughout his career and in his two stints here, he's made his impact felt. He's a top-15 all-time Lakers shooter from three, he's helped this team reach a Western Conference Finals and won the inaugural In-Season Tournament, which was a ‘huge deal’ to him.
So enjoy him while he's still here; in good times and in bad, he always gave his best and while the Lakers felt short on Tuesday, Russell stood tall and gave the Mamba Mentality effort fans appreciate.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.