D'Angelo Russell vs. New Orleans
D'Angelo Russell attempts a layup against the New Orleans Pelicans at Las Vegas Summer League on July 8, 2016.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Russell Powers Rout In Summer League Opener

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Last year, the Lakers’ Summer League team traveled to Las Vegas with a trophy in mind and returned with only one win.

Thanks largely to D’Angelo Russell’s stat-stuffing night, this year’s edition has already matched that total by steamrolling New Orleans, 85-65, in their Summer League opener on Friday.

“Last year we had had a reality check as a group,” Russell said after racking up 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three steals.* “This year was way more fun. We had a collective group that had fun playing with each other.”

Russell was efficient with his shot selection, going 7-of-12 from the field while also fighting for three offensive rebounds.

After breaking the franchise’s rookie record with 130 3-pointers last season, Russell spent much of the summer in the weight room and on the floor with the goal of crafting a stronger post game.

At first glance, all those hours seem to have been worth it as the 6-foot-5 point guard was able to consistently establish position down low against defending Pelicans. He flashed a couple of nice moves in the post, including a baseline spin that led to an and-1 layup and a turnaround jumper.

“You just can’t put little guards like that on him,” said Larry Nance Jr. said. “He’ll just punish them.”

With Russell piloting the offense, the Lakers opened the game by scoring 11 unanswered points. Though New Orleans finally woke up in a big way with a 14-4 run that cut Los Angeles’ lead to 15-14, the purple and gold had plenty of time left to distance themselves.

The leader of the Summer League squad, Russell jumpstarted the second quarter by scoring the frame’s first seven points all by himself. New Orleans hung around until there was 3:32 left in the half. Then, the Lakers scored 14 points in a row to take a 44-27 advantage that would never be surrendered.

*Note: Summer League is played with 10-minute quarters, instead of the standard 12.

First Game for No. 2
The large and vocal contingency of Lakers fans at Thomas & Mack Center cheered wildly when Brandon Ingram touched the ball on the second possession of the game. The second-overall pick of the 2016 Draft didn’t disappoint, using his length to separate from his defender and swish a mid-range jumper that amplified the crowd.

Twenty-four seconds later, he turned it up a few more decibels by using his 7-foot-3 wingspan to swat a layup attempt out of bounds.

The 18-year-old finished his first NBA exhibition with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, plus four rebounds and a pair of blocks. From Russell’s vantage point, Ingram will be even more of a threat when he is done feeling out the game.

“I just told him when he starts trying (to be aggressive), it’s going to be scary,” Russell said. “He played well.”

Ingram — who had 10 points at halftime — was surprised that he didn’t feel nervous leading up to the game, instead focusing on hydrating to beat the Vegas heat. A deadly 3-point shooter at Duke, he only took two shots from deep, missing both.

Though he has yet to show off that part of his game, Ingram looked fluid inside the arc, especially during the Lakers’ 14-0 run in the second quarter. At one point he scored six straight for L.A., including when he faked his defender with a stutter step, giving him an open path for a baseline slam.

As he did after Wednesday’s practice, Russell praised Ingram’s “god-given talent,” specifically highlighting his length and athleticism.

Likewise, Ingram enjoyed playing with his fellow second-overall pick.

“He’s been a leader through practice, and of course he was a leader today,” Ingram said. “Just telling me to get to my spots and he’s gonna find me. Playing with D’Angelo, he makes the game a lot easier.

“(I was) just getting to my spots. He has confidence in me, so I had confidence in myself to get to my mid-range pull-up and get to the basket.”

Zublocka’s Planet
It’s safe to say that nobody had as much fun on the floor as No. 32 pick Ivica Zubac.

The 19-year-old Croatian grew up an enormous Lakers fan, donning the jerseys of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace in his youth.

He made his favorite, and now-current, team proud by collecting 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes, causing the local fans to shower him with chants of “Zuuuu!”

Nance saw firsthand just how happy that made him.

“He came up to me and said, ‘I love playing for Lakers,’” Nance said with his best impersonation. “I was like, ‘I know, man. Me too. This is fun.’”

There was plenty of fun for Zubac on both sides of the floor. Like Russell, he had little trouble finding post position, shooting 3-of-4 from the field while drawing plenty of contact. His free throw stroke allowed him to take advantage, as he sunk all five foul shots.

Russell compared him to Marc Gasol, calling Zubac a “big fella with some sweetness to him.” Impressed by his swats, Nance alluded to a star center of years past by answering a question about Zubac with: “Mutombo?”

After the game, Zubac revealed his fitting, “Star Wars”-inspired nickname from Croatia: Zublocka.

He also highlighted the faster pace and better athletes when comparing his first taste of the NBA to his experiences in Europe. But Summer League head coach Jesse Mermuys didn’t see him having any issue with that.

“Man! The big fella!” Mermuys exclaimed. “I was impressed with the big fella. There were times I was like, ‘Man, I can’t take this guy off the court.’ And I couldn’t believe his conditioning where that came from. When he was practicing, he did not look like he was in that kind of shape.”

Russell, Ingram, Nance and Zubac were joined in the starting lineup by second-year wing Anthony Brown. Though his seven points and three rebounds don’t spark much awe, Brown’s defensive contributions were key toward L.A.’s 20-point rout.

Tasked with defending reigning Wooden Award winner Buddy Hield, Brown performed admirably. Hield — who averaged the NCAA’s second-most points (25.0) — led the Pelicans with 13, but shot just 5-of-20 to get there, while committing four turnovers and having three of his attempts blocked.

Brown limited the draft’s sixth-overall pick — who led the nation with 147 made 3-pointers — to a frosty 1-of-8 clip from downtown as well.

Keeping Hield in check was key for Los Angeles, which held its opponent to 32.9 percent shooting, including a 3-of-20 mark on triples.

Along with Brown, the frontcourt feasted with Zubac, Nance and Ingram all finishing with multiple rejections.

“I was hoping to block a few more shots, but Brandon blocked before me,” Zubac said. “I was jumping behind him for nothing.”

Nance nearly matched Russell’s double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. … Jordan Clarkson, who recently re-signed with the Lakers, is not playing for the Summer League team, but did make the trip up to Las Vegas and sat courtside for the game. … L.A. outscored New Orleans in the second quarter, 27-12. … Next up for the Lakers is a meeting with first-overall pick Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. PT.

Brodies. #LakersSummer

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