With the face of the franchise’s past 20 years sitting out, the Lakers watched their hopeful superstar of the future perform like the legend before him.
Kobe Bryant rested due to a sore shoulder, but D’Angelo Russell was there to set the court ablaze by erupting for a career-high 39 points, while leading the Lakers to a 107-101 victory over Brooklyn.
“I said, ‘This is my night,’” Russell said. “And it worked out great for me.”
Russell not only shot 14-of-21 from the field, but also cashed in 8-of-12 from beyond the 3-point line, splashing the most triples of any rookie this season.
Even more impressively, he also became the first rookie Laker to score that many points in the Los Angeles era, and only Elgin Baylor (twice) and Vern Mikkelsen have scored more for the franchise in their first year.
“If I could get to half of the success that they’ve gotten, it would be a pleasure just to be in the category with those guys,” Russell said. “I don’t play for those records, statistics. I just play, and whatever happens happens.”
Russell’s final total hardly suggests how quietly he began the game, scoring just five points in the first period.
After a 10-point second frame, Russell added eight more in the third before getting set to provide some heroics in the final quarter.
When the Nets whittled Los Angeles’ once 12-point lead to just 95-94 with 1:50 remaining, Jordan Clarkson responded by hitting a reverse layup. From there, it was up to Russell to bury the Nets.
He pulled up for a 3-pointer from the left wing with 53.2 seconds left and then immediately came down on the next possession with a straightaway triple from 27 feet away.
After this dagger, he walked past center-court, pointing to his left shooting arm and yelling, “I’ve got ice in my veins!”
Soon after, the 20-year-old found himself in the Lakers’ press conference room for the first time in his rookie season, still processing his 16-point fourth-quarter explosion.
“I’ve never been up here,” Russell said. “I didn’t know this existed. Now I know that I have something to really try to play for.”
Snapping the Slide
The Lakers entered the contest on an eight-game losing streak, but Russell’s hot hand melted away the potential for another letdown.
“Whenever he starts the game hot like he started today, he sinks (in) the rim like a swimming pool,” Marcelo Huertas said.
For his part, Huertas handed out five assists in 14 minutes, including a no-look dime to Larry Nance Jr., who cut to the rim and threw down a highlight slam in the fourth quarter.
Though Brooklyn (17-44) scored 64 points in the paint and had all five starters in double figures, Russell was aided by the rest of the Lakers’ young core.
Clarkson provided a strong all-around game with 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Julius Randle collected his 25th double-double on 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Despite the Nets’ late run, Russell lived up to his second-overall selection in this year’s draft by scoring 10 of his team’s final 13 points. He also finished the night with six rebounds and three assists to lead the Lakers (12-49) to a two-game sweep of Brooklyn.
“He’s growing,” head coach Byron Scott said. “(He) has more confidence and is more comfortable in the system.”
Baylor scored 55 and 41 in games during his rookie season of 1958-59. Mikkelsen also racked up 41 in 1950. … Russell scored the most points of any rookie since Jordan Crawford had 39 on March 30, 2011. … Lou Williams strained his left hamstring in the second quarter and will not travel for Wednesday’s game in Denver. … Brook Lopez led the Nets with 23 points but fouled out with three minutes remaining. … A sold-out crowd of 18,997 was on hand to watch Russell’s showcase at Staples Center.