The Lakers fought in a tough game against the Raptors on Sunday night. Recently, the Lakers have looked like a shell of the team that started the year. Their defense has gone down the drain and their offense is still really good, but has also taken a step down. Teams have started to figure out how to defend the Lakers offense and the team has not fully adjusted yet.
Even with this downward spiral, the Lakers were able to hang with one of the best teams in the NBA. It took a 41 point performance from Kyle Lowry to win the game for the Raptors, but the Lakers did an excellent job of staying in the game throughout.
One of the things that allowed the team to have a big fourth quarter offensively is that Luke let D’Angelo and Randle close out the game. This turned out to be a great move as Russell found his jump shot and went 4-4 from three point range to lead a comeback that fell just short. His defense showed flashes by forcing Lowry to take and make tough shots. Lowry just happened to be on fire.
This game also featured good performances from Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson that provided the energy that players like them can provide. It was a much needed impressive showing for a young Lakers team that was reeling after a terrible month of December. There are such things as good losses and this is a prime example of one.
The Lakers improvement came from the guard position as Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell were able to find their footing, which helped to carry the starting lineup. D’Angelo especially caught fire in the fourth quarter and the hope is that his jump shot can carry into the next game.
It was reported by Mike Bresnahan that D’Angelo hit the gym with Metta World Peace at 1 AM and trained until the early morning. Clearly, D’Angelo wants to improve and is putting in the work. It is good to see that it translated well to the game against the Raptors.
Now, let’s get to this film room before Brandon Ingram reaches over and dunks on me.
One thing that D’Angelo has done a lot of this year is push the ball with some urgency. In this new free flowing offense, transition offense is always ideal as the Lakers are young and ready to run (see what I did there). Nick is at his best when he can really step into his shot and square his shoulders. This is good recognition by Russell, as instead of taking it to the rim, he feeds the red-hot Nick Young for a good looking three pointer. It is always great to get your shooter going early on.
This was the “passing up shots” thing that Julius was mentioning after the game. This is a regular shot for D’Angelo, yet he hesitated and it led to him passing it out to Mozgov. His confidence did look shaken early on in the game, but he becomes a whole different animal once his shot gets going.
It has been said by many, but I will reiterate it: D’Angelo has been playing good defense these past few games. Kyle Lowry played a great game, but D’Angelo made it as difficult as he could for him. Here, he shows some tenacity getting over the screen and trying hard to stay on Lowry’s hip. He played him perfectly into the defensive trap.
Russell does a good job of rocking defenders to sleep with his handle as he may come up the court slowly and sit on top of the key to just dribble for a few seconds. Then once the defender has fallen asleep or is starting to back up, he rises and shoots a good looking three point shot or turns on the jets and goes to the paint. In this case, he gives Lowry the treatment and he pulls up for a good shot.
Really impressive defensive motor on this play by Russell. He stayed with Lowry the whole play and forced him to go into Mozgov to force a turnover. He certainly has the IQ to make smart defensive plays, all he needs to do is stick with the man and show some awareness on switches. If Russell is in the defensive play, he is capable of making the right one.
🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 Russell post-up touch alert 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 This was an impressive display of Russell’s underrated first step. It caught Corey Joseph by surprise and it allowed for Russell to get some easy points on the foul draw. Russell doesn’t have a quick first step, but it is faster then it would appear for a player of his build.
There is probably nothing more beautiful then Russell getting a double pick and roll at the top of the key. For a player that is more skilled than athletic, giving D’Angelo as many options as possible is ideal. On this play he attacks to the right side and almost splits two bigs for a nice layup, but gets the foul call instead. This was clearly a play for Russell to get in the paint since nobody rolled aggressively off the screen.
Not bad for a player that can’t get to the rim, huh? Russell took advantage of the Joseph matchup and played aggressive when he was in with a goal of getting to the rim. The big guarding Randle had a really tough choice as he had to commit to either Randle or Russell. He ended up committing to Randle and he let Russell just walk in and lay it up (pro tip: always commit to the ball). His fear was that Russell would dump it to Randle and that is a testament to Russell’s playmaking.
Another Russell hesitation, but it was a fruitful one as he ended up getting a good look. Moz gives Russell a nice hard screen which gives Russell the space to shoot his sorta-floater. His pick and roll design-making appears to be as crisp as ever.
Another promising defensive play with Russell being all over Lowry. He starts by breathing down Kyle’s neck to force the pass out and then runs all the way out to close out on the Lowry three. Good defense, better offense is the only way to describe this play. With Russell, you take this effort and reaction all day.
🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 Russell catch and shoot play alert 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 Something that is not taken advantage of in Russell’s game is his ability to catch and shoot. Most of his attempts are created off the dribble which are tougher since the player has to create for himself. D’Angelo running through screens smartly to get a good look at a three is a play that should be run 2-4 times a game. It allows Russell to get his shot going early on so he can have some confidence when he shoots it off the dribble.
Oh, look, it’s another amazing D’Angelo pass! *shrug* Russell did a good job of moving to get himself free. He takes two screens from Robinson to get free from DeRozan, and then he sees the savvy Deng cut to the basket. Russell drops a beautiful pass for Deng. What a great read.
Russell just needs one jumpshot to go in to get himself going. His stroke looked much cleaner and he has been getting some pretty good looks recently. They finally started to go in. This was the missing thing in his game that could start the Russell takeover that was hyped before the season. His defense is looking better, his playmaking is just as sharp as always, and he is getting to the paint. All he needed was for his shot to start falling to have a big game.
Russell was stubborn about only shooting good looks. His shot selection was much improved as he could have shot it off the dribble when the big was switched on him, but instead, he gave it to Julius to get some good space from the defender. From then, he just hit the shot that he knows he can hit.
A reoccurring theme of this article has been that Russell is playing some really good defense. This is a good job of taking the contact from DeRozan and contesting the shot to bother it. DeRozan has a knack for making tough mid-range shots, so it is pretty astounding to see Russell bother the shot.
This is a really great hesitation dribble to get the defender off balance and then attack at their weakest point. It is a really crafty move for him to put his head down to create space and then shoot an off-balanced shot. Russell hit some tough shots and it disproves the notion that his shot is easily bothered. His feet end up landing in weird places, but the ball goes in.
I know Russell has been struggling, but NEVER GO UNDER ON D’ANGELO, KYLE.
Russell really drops the perfect pocket pass. This is a great read by D’Angelo as he notices that the defense is falling asleep, so he sets up Randle with a clear lane.
🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 Russell off-ball play alert 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 Russell is really good at running players into screens to give him some space to shoot a good looking shot. This is another shot that disproves the notion that Russell’s shot is easily bothered. Russell found his shot in this game which is a far bigger win for the Lakers than an actual notch in the win column. Hopefully this carries over into tonight’s game.