D'Angelo Russell - 3 Things to Know

Three Things to Know: Lakers at Timberwolves 3-31-23

The Lakers (38-38) are in Minneapolis for a critical matchup with the Timberwolves (39-38), with the winner of the game set to hold the No. 7 seed and keep a shot at the No. 6 spot in play. The game tips at 5:00 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV and 710 ESPN radio.

Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:

Answer: the likely higher seed in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 play-in game, and a shot at the No. 6 seed.

Since the Timberwolves already hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers courtesy of one win in October and one in March, a Wolves win would essentially put them up by 2.5 games with just four to play. On the other side, if the Lakers get a win, they’d move a game ahead in the loss column with five left to play.

Minnesota closes its season vs. POR, @ BKN, @SAS and vs. NOP. They’ll likely be favored in all four games.

The Lakers finish up @ HOU, @ UTA, @ LAC, vs. PHX and vs. UTA, and will be favored in at least three games, with two question marks depending upon who’s available.

If the Lakers lose to Minnesota, it’s difficult to imagine them as the higher seed. In fact, they’d need to go 5-0 to reach 43 wins, a number the Wolves would hit by going 3-1. If the Lakers went 4-1, Minnesota would need to go just 2-2, with at least two of their opponents (POR and SAS) more focused on … rebuilding.

But if the Lakers do beat Minnesota, they could go 4-1 in their last five to reach 43 wins, and Minnesota would have to go 4-0. If the Lakers won on Friday, but closed out at 3-2, Minnesota would have the edge at 3-1.

Meanwhile, the No. 6-seeded Golden State Warriors (40-37) finish out vs. SAS, @ DEN, vs. OKC, @ SAC and @POR. They’ll be favored in at least three of those games; conservatively, they should finish with 43 wins, mandating the Lakers go 5-1 to match them. The Lakers do hold the tiebreaker against GSW, which at least keeps the conversation open.

At this point, Denver (No. 1), Memphis (No. 2) and Sacramento (No. 3) are pretty-well entrenched in their respective seeds. Most likely: the No. 6 seed will draw the Kings, the winner of the No. 7/8 play-in game the Grizzlies, and winner of the 9/10 winner vs. the 7/8 loser the Nuggets.

All of this can change daily, so … stay tuned!

As for the game itself, the Wolves will be without one of the best bench players in the NBA this season, Naz Reid, who suffered a broken wrist on Wednesday night.

For just the second time* since the Lakers acquired five players at the trade deadline, they were able to get D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt on the floor at the same time as LeBron James and Anthony Davis for a full game. And for the first time, the coaching staff inserted Austin Reaves alongside Russell in the backcourt, replacing Malik Beasley.
*The first was a dominant 120-102 win over New Orleans on Feb. 15.

The results were immediately, and obviously, apparent, as the group created and hit open shot after open shot, while getting stops on the other end at Chicago on Wednesday evening. The lead was 16-8 after four minutes when LeBron drilled a three from Reaves, and 23-8 when Vanderbilt hit a corner 3 from Davis, before Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura replaced LeBron and Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt saw some of his minutes go to other players as the game wore on, but the other four finished with these respective plus/minus totals after a 121-110 game that wasn’t that close:

Russell: +35; Reaves: +28; LeBron: +23; Davis: +16.

The second quarter featured an all-bench unit that’s unlikely to see many more minutes as LeBron continues to get back to full condition and health following a 1-month absence, as he played just 31 minutes.

After the game, I asked LeBron what worked so well with the starting five.

"I think the No. 1 thing is we have multiple ball handlers,” said LeBron. "No one has to feel stressed handling the ball every possession. We got shot makers in that starting lineup. And we have a lot of length."

Anthony Davis weighed in on the starting lineup in the walk off interview after going for 38 points, 10 boards, four assists, two blocks and two steals.

In 12 games in his second stint in Los Angeles, the numbers sure like what D’Angelo Russell’s been doing on the basketball court.

In his 30.9 minutes per game, Russell has a net rating of 13.9, by far the best on the team, boosted by a 121.1 mark on offense and 107.2 mark on defense, both of which lead the team.

Furthermore, in his 371 minutes, he’s a +116, good for an average of 9.7 per game.

He’s shooting the ball well from the field (47.9 percent) and from three (40.0 percent, converting 2.7 of 6.7 attempts), has an impressive assist (6.2) to turnover (2.3) ratio.

Often in the NBA, it takes a while to develop chemistry and cohesion with a group of five. But not always. And not when there’s so much skill and basketball IQ, which is what I asked Russell.

“Yeah, simple as that,” he responded. “If you have guys like that around you, the game is super easy. If you’re not forcing it, it’ll come to you eventually. (The opponent has to) rotate, they gotta adjust when they’re dominating the game like that. Take advantage of it when it happens.”

“We just played really good basketball,” said Reaves of the Bulls game, and his fit next to Rusell. “When you have that much talent on the court – ‘Bron, AD, D-Lo especially, and then you fit me and Vando in there, hustle guys, play the right way, that’s really what I thought we started the game off really the right way. Making the extra pass, and just a lot of energy.”

Russell has certainly enjoyed playing with Reaves.

“If you can dominate the game from a lot of different areas, and have that versatility, I don’t know if you can name anything Austin Reaves can’t really do on the offensive end, he dominates the game,” said Russell. “And myself, I try to do the same, so when you got us next to those two guys out there, the game is just super simple. We got off to a great start, and you can kind of get a taste of it.”