Russell leads the way against former team
Scores 22, dishes out career-High 22 assists in win over Lakers
Lakers Team President Magic Johnson jettisoned D’Angelo Russell out of Los Angeles in the summer of 2017, mainly because he felt the budding point guard didn’t have the acumen or character to lead an NBA franchise.
On Tuesday night at Downtown Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Russell went a long way toward dispelling those perceptions.
The 22-year-old playmaker took on the role of consummate leader, scoring 22 points, handing out a career-high 13 assists and knocking down a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute as the Brooklyn Nets extended their season-high winning streak to six games with a 115-110 victory over LeBron James and the Lakers.
“No. Honestly,” Russell said when asked if he was playing with any extra motivation against the team that selected him second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft only to send him packing to Brooklyn two years later.
“The crowd was electric in there,” he added. “You could feel it. The Lakers were in town, so we wanted to give them a run.”
Though most of the sellout gathering of 17,732 were there to watch James and Lonzo Ball, the point guard who usurped Russell’s former position in Los Angeles, the resurgent Nets (14-18) continued to shrug off the notion that they are more interested in positioning themselves for a high draft pick rather than reaching the postseason for the first time since 2015.
And Russell was at the forefront of that charge.
He continually set up shots for Joe Harris (19 points), Spencer Dinwiddie (18) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (17) as Brooklyn completed its first six-game win streak since March of 2015 while moving within three games of Orlando for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“Guys are in a position to make plays. If you see Joe open, you’re going to find him,” said Russell, who is averaging just shy of 10 assists over his last five games.
“Vice versa, if he sees me open, someone sees me open, I’m going to make a play. We’ve got guys capable of doing that, and it’s playing a positive in our winning streak.”
Though Russell stole the show, it was second-year center Jarrett Allen who created the most memorable moment of the evening, rising up to block a dunk attempt by James in the early stages of the opening quarter.
“He came down the lane and it was just going up to contest the shot,” said Allen, who finished with eight points and six rebounds.
“It’s LeBron, so I had to go up with some extra emphasis, and then I ended up getting it.”
Though they led by as many as 14 points in the final quarter, the Nets still needed Russell to bail them out once James got hot in crunch time.
After James, who finished with 36 points, 13 boards and eight assists, scored off his own rebound to cut the deficit to 110-107 with 42 seconds left, Russell rose up and knocked down a 3-pointer on the other end to give the Nets a six-point bulge with 22 ticks remaining.
With a season-worst eight-game losing streak behind it, Brooklyn was eager to extend its current run Thursday night in Chicago, a point Russell emphasized before he strode off the court in triumph.
“I’ve personally never been in that position, at this level, to win six in a row,” he said. “Definitely not satisfied, you know. (We need to) give ourselves a chance to keep it going. Streaks end eventually, but we want to keep it rolling.”