D'Angelo Russell Went Scorched-Earth In A Perfect 4th Quarter As The Deep, LeBron-Less Lakers Aren't Dead After All
Not to minimize the contributions of the perpetually surprising Austin Reaves (18 points, seven in the fourth quarter), trade deadline acquisition Rui Hachimura (16 points), or even Dennis Schroder (23 points, 10 in the fourth), who all did phenomenal work off the bench. That said, D'Angelo Russell was ON ONE in his return to the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup on Friday night. DLo dominated the Raptors and inspired fans in attendance to the point where you can't help but feel this Lakers squad is making a real playoff push.
What's crazy is, they've won eight of their last 10 and haven't had LeBron James on the court for the last four of those victories. The ultimate silver lining, best-case scenario of LeBron going down with a foot injury was other guys stepping up and being ready down the road when they're called upon in the play-in tournament/playoffs. Even the most rose-tinted glasses-rocking Lakers fans couldn't have dreamed this up.
Thank you, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, for succinctly summarizing how the Purple and Gold are taking it to opponents lately.
When LeBron was ruled out for multiple weeks, it felt like a huge missed opportunity for the franchise to really get back on track. Since that bubble championship in 2020, the Lakers have struggled mightily. With an overhauled roster around the trade deadline, they're turning a corner, against all odds, without The King. AKA the Pass-First All-Time NBA Leading Scorer. Who's pretty good at basketball even in his 20th season as a pro.
Now we've got D'Angelo Russell, a former Lakers No. 2 overall pick who once fell out of favor for being an immature bonehead, and proceeded to mostly underachieve (given his draft status) with Brooklyn, Golden State (*only 33 games there, to be fair) and most recently Minnesota.
Look at DLo go.
I'm so here for a D'Angelo Russell redemption arc. For LeBron to will his way back from injury and shut all the people the fuck up who question his mental toughness and/or competitiveness. For Anthony Davis to raise his singular brow The Rock style at his doubters and string together the best stretch of basketball he's ever played.
Speaking of AD, low-key subplot of Friday's contest: He managed only eight points on 4-of-7 shooting, yet still stayed engaged and made an impact with nine boards, three assists and four blocks.
What a laughable notion it was a couple weeks ago to even suggest this ragtag band of Lakers misfits could jell at the perfect time and go deep in the playoffs in a wild, wide-open Western Conference.
But then you look around, and you see the cursed Suns dealing with Kevin Durant's latest freak injury. They went all-in for KD and it backfired so fast. Ja Morant is out of action for Memphis with all his off-court issues. No one really believes the Kings are for real. Not really. That leaves the Nuggets at the top, who've won nothing.
Other teams who made deadline moves and could be dangerous such as the Clippers and Mavs are struggling. For whatever reason, the Clips took on ex-Laker Russell Westbrook and that frivolous acquisition looks disastrous. From a pure roundball standpoint, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving should work in Dallas. Still waiting on that, however.
Beyond the lurking, defending champion Warriors who you always have to respect, who would the Lakers be that afraid of? Better not let them get hot, get into the postseason, and get a fully-recovered LeBron back going full-tilt.
Glad I didn't totally jinx this team and that hope is still alive.
Come back soon, LeBron. The NBA and its shit show Western Conference need you.