OAKLAND — The outcome seemed obvious well before the final buzzer sounded. The Lakers’ 111-77 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday at Oracle Arena set NBA history that did not involve purple and gold excellence. The Warriors (16-0) have an NBA record 16-game winning streak to open the season, an honor the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets once held. The Lakers (2-12) lost their fourth consecutive game and posted a season-low in points.
Yet, the Lakers still had to finish the game. Lakers coach Byron Scott still had to evaluate how players performed. Players still had to prove they would still compete.
But Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell was not part of that process. He sat out the entire fourth quarter after posting eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one turnover in 25 minutes, 51 seconds.
“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”
In fact, Scott rested all of his starters, including Kobe Bryant, as the Lakers entered the fourth quarter trailing the Warriors, 89-55. But Russell represents a potential cornerstone of the Lakers’ long-term future. Isn’t there value in Russell having game experience even in blowout losses?
“Nah,” Scott said.
Russell would not have been playing in the Lakers’ normal rotation. That experience cannot simulate the same result in a competitive environment when successes or failures become more magnified. But Russell subscribed to the argument that any increased playing time will have long-term implications, regardless of the settings.
“That would be great,” Russell told Los Angeles News Group. “You’re only a rookie once. You get reps now and mess up now. So then next year when you’re not a rookie, you don’t have to worry about making rookie mistakes.”
Scott believes Russell has made plenty of mistakes with how he runs the offense, plays defense and makes passes. But Russell has shown steady improvement with both his play and opportunities. He entered the Lakers’ game against the Warriors on Tuesday averaging 14.33 points on 41 percent shooting, six rebounds, 3.3 assists and two turnovers in 32.33 minutes in the previous three contests. Those are modest numbers, but it still exceeds his previous season average before those games. Then Russell had averaged 9.9 points on 37.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, three assists and 1.6 turnovers in 24.4 minutes per contest.
Still, Russell argued that the Lakers’ fourth-quarter unit earned their playing time. They closed out the last period with a 22-22 tie. The Lakers shot 52.6 percent from the field. They recorded nine of the Lakers’ 16 assists.
“The group that goes out there looks very good,” Russell said. “I think that’s how coach wants us to play. They were swinging it and everybody touched the ball. They got good quality shots. There was nothing they could really do. But they still looked good.”
Nonetheless, Scott has conceded he hopes to play Russell about 34 to 35 minutes per game moving forward before adding a caveat.
“That’s up to him,” Scott said. “That learning curve is going away. We’ve been playing him minutes. He’s getting minutes and making mistakes. Now is a time I expect and will be more demanding. I’m not going to accept some of the mistakes we’re making, especially the ones that he makes over and over again. That’s up to him.”