The other night I was out with a friend having a drink and talking basketball. In between some NSFW commentary on topics from around the league, he asked me about D’Angelo Russell. My buddy, an OKC Thunder fan, said he really likes Russell and wants him to do well. He asked me if I had any concerns about Russell (I will get to my answer to that in a minute) and then we went on to discuss how good we think he can be as a player.

In Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves, Russell did not play well. It took him 10 shots to score his 7 points and he struggled defensively, both when trying to contain Ricky Rubio off the dribble and when forced to switch onto other wings/bigs. This type of game isn’t indicative of how Russell has played all season, but it’s also not the first time it has happened. In a loss against the Pacers he scored 11 points on 3-10 shooting and the Pacers attacked him with Paul George down the stretch, intentionally singling him out by forcing switches defensively. A loss against the Jazz saw him score 9 points on 3-14 shooting while George Hill cooked offensively on the other end.

For the season, Russell is scoring 15.4 points a night and dishing 4.7 assists. He’s shooting 40.5% from the floor, including 35.9% from distance. If these numbers sound familiar, it’s because they are quite similar to the ones he posted last season: 13.2 points, 3.2 assists, 41.0% shooting from the field, and 35.9% from behind the arc. Russell is scoring and assisting better and in fewer minutes a night, but if you look at his shot charts, things this year resemble last year.

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In the big picture, if you would have told me the Lakers would go 2-1 on their 3 game road trip I would have taken it happily and not even thought twice about it. I think it important to remind myself of that right now because the Lakers’ 125-99 loss to the Wolves was as ugly as the score implies. In fact, it might have been worse.

As I wrote in my game preview, I thought there might be a chance the Lakers came out sluggish and that’s what happened. The starting group wasn’t just flat, they were slow in pretty much everything they did. Slow in getting into their sets, in moving the ball, in setting screens, in closing out on shooters, in rotating to protect the paint. The result was an early hole for the bench to try to dig out of.

Typically, that’s not an issue for the Lakers’ reserves, but this game they weren’t able to really get anything going either — at least consistently. They did have a nice spurt in the 2nd quarter where they were able to apply some defensive pressure, get some stops, and then get some baskets on the other end. For that brief stint, it looked like it was going to be business as usual but then things dried up again which allowed the Wolves to take control back and close the half with a run.

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The Lakers are 2-0 on a three game road trip which ends tonight in Minnesota. The game is the 2nd night of a back to back and one which has them traveling from New Orleans to Minnesota. This is not the most brutal flight (roughly two and a half hours), but it can be at least somewhat compounded by the fact that they were just in Sacramento on Thursday. That’s a lot of miles in only 4 days and it would not surprise me if some of this caught up to them.

That said, the Lakers continue to win games using a communal approach where Luke Walton has masterfully distributed minutes so on single player is ever overextended. A blowout helped against the Pelicans for sure, but no player was on the court for more than 28 minutes last night which is right in line with season norms. This type of minute allocation helps combat schedule issues by keeping players as fresh as they can be considering the rigors of the season.

How much that rest matters is only a side story today, though. The Lakers could have been coming off a brutal stretch or had a week off heading into Minnesota and I think all the focus would be on the Lakers playing the team many around the league see as the potential heir-apparent. The Lakers, of course, would prefer experts look at them that way, but instead it’s the Wolves, with Andrew Wiggins, Karl Towns, Zach Lavine, and Kris Dunn. That young core (which isn’t even all of them, by the way) is coached by Tom Thibodeau and is hyped as the team of the future.

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Guys, I am recapping a game where the Lakers nearly won by 30 points this season. It’s weird. But also cool. The Lakers smashed the Pelicans, 126-99.

And yeah, they did have a little bit of luck on this. I will be the first to tell you that injuries are awful. Anthony Davis basically did whatever he wanted against L.A. on the offensive end. And then he hurt his back in the third quarter when the Lakers were barely up, 63-62. The Lakers did what they had to do; they took advantage and rolled for 14 straight points. The Pelicans looked lost when they lost the Brow. Davis would eventually come back but he wasn’t fully mobile and the Lakers kept their foot on the gas pedal.

The Lakers ball movement was exquisite the entire night; the Pelicans couldn’t catch up to the basketball. They also took care of the ball, too, as they only had 10 turnovers. They made the right decisions in terms of when to attack the basket, when to shoot, and when to make the extra pass or two. All in all, the Lakers went for 36 assists (tied a season high in the NBA this season). And not only did they keep the ball moving but they converted their open shots. 55.3 percent shooting overall for L.A. and 53.3 percent (16 for 30) from behind the arc.

Lou Williams and Nick Young (15 points) had a surge in the second quarter that put them up eight. That’s another thing I never thought I would say this season, either. Brandon Ingram had nine points in the second quarter. He would eventually leave the game with a sprained ankle but, by all accounts, he should be fine for tomorrow’s game. Julius Randle nearly had a triple-double (8-11-8). Jordan Clarkson, Lou, and D’Angelo Russell all had over 20 points. And the frontcourt of Tarik Black, Timofey Mozgov, Larry Nance, and Thomas Robinson all had good moments in the game. We’re still waiting for Luol Deng to break out with a really good game; let’s hope it’s sooner than later. Still, I love that there’s little to no dropoff when the Lakers go to the bench; the non-starters scored 73 points tonight!

The Lakers have now won five of six games and they head to Minnesota as they play the Timberwolves tomorrow (who are currently playing the Clippers right now). It should be a fun game between two young and exciting teams. Get your popcorn or pizza rolls ready.

It’s early but it’s been a crazy season thus far for the Lakers. And when I say crazy, I mean it in a very good way. 6-4. Who would’ve thought?

The Lakers played a strong second half to come back and beat the Kings on Thursday night and then hopped on a plane to New Orleans to continue their road trip. The NBA grind stops for no one and today’s game against the Pelicans will be the Lakers’ sixth game on the road of their first 10 contests. The trip ends with another game tomorrow against the T’Wolves.

That Wolves game is a match up against two up and coming teams and, just as I did with this sentence, it would not surprise me to have some on the Lakers looking forward a bit to Sunday. That, however, would be a mistake for a few reasons. One, the Lakers aren’t good enough to look past any opponent. And, two, while the Pelicans are only 1-8 on the season, they have Anthony Davis who is, well, a monster.

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Luke Walton was not happy after Thursday’s game against the Kings. That might seem odd considering the way his team rallied in the 2nd half, holding the Kings to 36 points over the final two periods to win the game 101-91. He was not protesting the way his team closed, of course, but rather the way they played to dig themselves the hole — at one point they trailed by as many as 19 — to need that type of 2nd half performance in the first place.

This is what Walton is trying to teach and just as lessons can be learned from losses, they also can from wins. Walton did not demean his players or question their manhood, but he did let them know coming out with lackluster energy or attention to detail is not who they want to be as a team. He drilled that lesson after a W and I’m sure he was happy to be able to do so. But, and I’ve harped on this all season, Walton is clearly coaching for something bigger than wins this season (even if wins clearly matter to him — more on that later). He’s coaching to instill his team with the right mindset, the right habits, to have them truly turn the corner and become competitive over the long haul.

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FIGHTING SPIRIT. They just keep doing it.

After a letdown against the Mavericks at home, the Lakers have won four of their last five games as they made an impressive comeback against the Kings in Sacramento, 101-91. The thing is… it really looked bleak early on.

The Lakers looked like they would either watch paint dry or watch leaves fall from a tree. They looked lethargic, fatigued, and a step slower in the first half. The young guns had 12 turnovers. Sactown took advantage; nobody seemed to be able to stop DeMarcus Cousins. He scored 18 of his 28 points in the first half. The Lakers were down as many as 19 points before they had a late surge to close out the half.

D’Angelo Russell, who looked indecisive in the first 24 minutes, caught a bit of fire as he scored eight of his 17 points in the first six minutes of the third. The Lakers did a much better job guarding Boogie as Timofey Mozgov got more physical and they did timely double-teams. In about a nine-minute stretch between the third and the fourth, the Kings only scored two points. Boogie finally did come alive in the fourth quarter but by that time, it was too late. After a deadlock at 82, the Lakers broke away with a 10-0 run that was led by Lou Williams and Nick Young. Sweet Lou scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and continues to be that incredible veteran presence. And the resurrection of Nick Young continues. He continues to put a lot of effort on the defensive end. Swaggy P scored the last five points of that aforementioned 10-0 run that pretty much put the game out of reach. He scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.

I know Luke Walton is still figuring out his rotations as the season goes on. It definitely helped that Larry Nance, Jr. came back for this game after he passed the concussion protocol (who, by the way, did his role as the energy guy off the bench with seven boards). But I like that Luke stayed with the hot guys. The line-up that the Lakers had during the closing stretch was Mozgov, Brandon Ingram (his length bothered the Kings on the boards and on defense), Julius Randle (he still continues to attack; he had 15 and 8), Lou Will, and Nick. I know most coaches would go back to his regular starters but I thought it was a great decision for Walton to stick with the line-up that got them the lead. And it was so encouraging to see all the other guys cheer for the team. Guys, they are so so much fun.

The Lakers did end with 21 turnovers; that is an extremely high number. And I would like it if they could get off to better starts in the game. But I like that the Lakers never stop playing; they have been in every game by the fourth quarter this season. The fight never stops with them and it is so much appreciated by the coaching staff and the fans.

They will face the New Orleans Pelicans next in Louisiana. Those birds just got their first win earlier today so they’re going to be hungry to extend that marvelous one-game winning streak.

The baby Lakers are 5-4. Over .500 after nine games. Quite a pleasant surprise.

After a loss to the Mavericks which was both disappointing yet offered some teachable moments, the Lakers are back in action against the Kings tonight. Sacramento, with new coach Dave Joerger, is 4-5 on the year and looking to get their 3rd straight win while also climbing back to .500 for the season.

As with past seasons, the Kings are difficult to wrap your head around. They have beat teams they should, but also went on a 5 game road trip which saw them lose to the Magic, Heat, and Bucks but beat the Raptors in the final game of the trip. They have the supremely talented DeMarcus Cousins but also a ton of front court depth beside him, but also want to play faster and small which means sliding Rudy Gay up to PF for stretches.

Another wrinkle for Sacto is that Darren Collison returned from his 8 game suspension in Tuesday’s win over the Pelicans, scoring 9 points and dishing 4 assists in his season debut. Getting Collison back finally organizes their lineup and helps to normalize their rotation. With everyone now properly slotted and without having to rely on short term answers, we will finally get a look at what the Kings real potential is.

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