The ice may have always stayed in D’Angelo Russell’s veins through both hot and cold shooting nights. Unfortunately for Russell, issues still lingered in his left knee.
So even if Russell returned nearly three weeks ago reported feeling pain free after having a non-invasive procedure on his left knee, the Lakers’ starting point guard still faced limitations. He initially had minute restrictions to ease his workload. He initially shed rust. He initially fought shooting inconsistency. He initially seemed resigned toward settling for outside shots.
“When he first got back,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, “clearly it didn’t look like he wanted to get in the paint at all, or make many too down-hill type of movements.”
But in the Lakers’ 123-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday at Staples Center, Russell appeared no longer shackled. He posted 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting, five assists and four rebounds, which marked his highest scoring output since posting a season-high 32 points on Nov. 15, 2016 against Brooklyn. Russell scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter as he tried to help the Lakers in a comeback win. And Russell showed a healthy of mix of attacking the basket (3-of-6 from shots in the paint) and finding outside shots (6-of-12 from 3-point range).
“I just try to read the defense,” Russell said. “I feel I can get the shot anytime. I feel I can read the defense and attack it at the same time.”
Walton believes Russell did not always do that in previous games out of concern for his recently healed left knee.
“The biggest part of coming back from injuries is trusting your body will hold up for you again,” Walton said. “Obviously when he’s playing like that, it opens upa lot of things for him.”
Before Sunday’s game, Russell had shot only 35.7 percent from the field in the 10 other contests he played after returning from injury. Yet, Walton frequently praised Russell for various aspects. He still averaged 5.2 assists during that stretch. Walton often singled Russell out for his defensive hustle.
“Its been coming. I don’t think it came out of nowhere,” Walton said. “I think he’s slowly been getting there.”
All of which set up Russell’s performance against Toronto, in which he hopes follows with wins and more consistency.
“Its not as good as we want it to be, but everyone is finding out their identities as a team and individually as well,” Russell said. “Some nights it’s going to be my nights. Sometimes it’s not. I have to recognize it.”