Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell brings it home against Bucks

LOS ANGELES — Have we mentioned the unpredictability of the Lakers lately?

Unpredictability, to be clear, in terms of never knowing exactly what you’re going to get out of this group. Two nights after laying a giant purple egg here against Sacramento, letting what was once a 19-point lead get away, the Lakers faced the Milwaukee Bucks without LeBron James (out after having aggravated his sore ankle) and came away with their most inspiring victory of the year.

And the main architect of that 123-122 triumph was a guy who most people figured would be gone at the trading deadline.

D’Angelo Russell had the knockout blow, a teardrop of a jumper with 5.9 seconds left to retake the lead, after which newcomer Spencer Dinwiddie secured the win by blocking Damian Lillard’s jumper as time ran out.

Even before that, Russell’s 44-point night included a 9-for-12 performance from behind the 3-point line, each succeeding trey bringing a greater crescendo of noise from the home crowd.

Along the way, Russell was the fifth player in team history to have eight or more 3-pointers in three different games, joining a group that includes Magic Johnson, Nick Van Exel, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and LeBron James. He has 171 this season, moving into No. 6 on the franchise’s all-time list for single-season 3-pointers, and his total of 482 as a Laker puts him ninth on the team’s career list. (Presumably, Kobe Bryant’s 1,827 is out of reach.)

But the details and the numbers, in this case, are less important than the glimmer of hope a night like this provides, even if so many of those other hopeful moments have been fool’s gold for a team that is 35-30 and, by Friday night, was a half-game ahead of 10th-place Golden State at the bottom of the play-in zone.

If there somehow really is a deep playoff run in them, Russell probably will have a key role.

When Russell was first traded by the Lakers to Brooklyn in June of 2017, two years after they’d drafted him with the second overall pick, he was damaged goods, with Johnson – then the club’s director of basketball operations – acknowledging he’d traded Russell in part because of an off-court incident in which he secretly recorded teammate Nick Young admitting he had cheated on his fiancee.

“Obviously you know what I’ve been through, public humiliation,” Russell said Friday night. “That motivated me into the killer that y’all see today.

“I never lacked confidence. I never feared confrontation. I wanted all the smoke. I wanted to talk about it, just as high-IQ players get in the room and talk about it. I just feel confident what I bring to the basketball game. It’s film, it’s watching and helping young players.”

Current Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka brought Russell back last year at the deadline, and he played a substantial role in the team’s surge down the stretch even with the acknowledgement he would never make anyone’s all-defensive team, something the Denver Nuggets publicly exploited during the Western Conference finals.

Yet as this season’s trade deadline approached, most of the league’s pundits had zeroed in on Russell as the guy most likely to go, his defense still an issue and his role reduced from starter to sub for a while with injury scrambling his role as well.

“He and I had a conversation – I won’t go into detail, but he and I had conversations about that very thing,” Coach Darvin Ham said late Friday night. “It’s just a reality of our business that his name is being thrown around, because he has value. He’s worth something. Other teams see that. He’s an All-Star player. And so you’re going to have all type of things being thrown around, from secret sources or whatever the case may be.

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