D'Angelo Russell had called it a statement game, an important time to show he deserved to be the NBA draft's second pick last June.
Then a question mark was thrown into his sentence — New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis sat out Sunday's game against the Lakers because of a stomach illness.
Russell had the stage all to himself. He forgot some of his lines.
After a slew of strong efforts, he was a non-factor in the Lakers' 90-87 loss to the Knicks. He missed six of seven shots and scored only four points with two assists and two rebounds.
He was not in the game down the stretch. Neither was Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers' other backcourt starter.
"He's 20 years old," Lakers Coach Byron Scott said of Russell. "He's had a good run. You expect him to have some bad games sooner or later. The league's going to start really taking a good look at what he does well. They're going to try to make him adjust. He's going to have to figure that out."
It was Russell's 11th game since reclaiming his starting job. His first 10 were almost an unqualified success — averages of 21 points, 4.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds. He was also shooting 46.3% from three-point range.
The most spirited part of his game Sunday was the blue-and-white cap he wore afterward that commemorated the Lakers' back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988.
"I just didn't make a shot, struggled a little bit in the offensive end," Russell said. "That's about it."
Scott doesn't have much room for hyperbole in his old-school mind-set. He understood what Russell was doing with the "statement game" comment Saturday.
"He's trying to prove that he's worthy of the second pick. For him, if that gets him going, that's fine," Scott said.
Scott questioned Russell's self-motivation earlier this season. He wanted a more serious approach from the rookie. It played into the reasons Russell lost his starting spot after 20 games. On Sunday, Scott said Russell was "OK" at motivating himself.
"You try to compare him to Kobe [Bryant], that's kind of a little bit of a stretch," Scott said. "I don't know if D'Angelo's there yet. I think that's going to take a few years to really even get an answer from that.
"But I do think he's a guy that works. He wants to get better. He'll put in the time, but will he go the extra yard? I don't know yet."
There will be regression at times for a rookie. It's inevitable.
Knicks interim Coach Kurt Rambis liked what he saw of Russell.
"We all know he's going to be good," Rambis said before the game. "Those young players, it takes them a while to grow up. He's not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. He's got a lot to learn just like Kris has a lot to learn. He's going to get there. It's just a matter of time before he's a really, really good basketball player."
Porzingis was drafted fourth overall last June. Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns was the first pick and Philadelphia center Jahlil Okafor was the third pick.
MORE LAKERS NEWS