To say I was conflicted heading into the Lakers matchup with the Suns would be an understatement. From my game preview:
I’d love to talk to you about the matchups between the young players on both teams. How I always look forward to seeing how D’Angelo Russell plays against good friend Devin Booker. How I’m interested in seeing how Julius Randle deals with the athleticism and length of Marquese Chriss. How I want to see how Brandon Ingram matches up with TJ Warren. On any other night under most other circumstances, those things would matter much more to me.
Tonight, though, these lottery implications really do take center stage. This isn’t to say I am rooting for the Lakers to lose. I’m not really capable of doing that. It’s just not in my heart to do it. But, my head does understand how these things work. The logic side of my brain fully grasps how much the standings game matters here and how it can impact things in May when the lottery order is determined.
This is the battle I think all Lakers fans are facing each night now, me included. I want the young players to do well. I want competitive games where the team plays hard. I’d even like them to win a few more games simply to feel the reward of hard work and see the correlation between effort and positive results. How those goals bump up against the realities of the draft picks the team still owes are a difficult situation to navigate from a rooting interests standpoint.
After the game, those conflicted feelings remain but I can say it still feels good to see the young guys play well and the good feeling of seeing the team win a game still remains. Especially when it’s buoyed by a fantastic performance from D’Angelo Russell who continued his trend upwards and strong play since the trade deadline.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 10, 2017
When I talk about being a guy who can score at all three levels, those Russell highlights are exactly what I mean.
Russell got into the paint, hit his mid-range jumper, and bombed three pointers from all over the court. He set the tone for the Lakers and in a season where the prevailing thought is there’s nothing for this team to play for but a better chance at retaining their lottery pick, that clip is a reminder that these young guys still have something else to play for: their standing in this league and prospect of improving.
Russell did that tonight. As did Randle, Zubac, Ingram, Nance, and Clarkson. They weren’t all as efficient as Russell and they may not have carried the night the same way as the 2nd year point guard, but they were all major contributors in their own way and flashed some of the skill (with some highlights of their own) which still have a lot of people believing in their ability to be high level contributors one day.
So, yeah, the Lakers won a game which may hurt their lottery chances in two months. But several of their key young players also offered a night which reinforces why they too were once the types of players fans hoped the team lost enough games to have a chance at obtaining. And, in the end, I’ll take that too.