D’Angelo Russell understands that the Lakers’ rotation means minutes are often scarce.
All he wants is the chance to close.
On Tuesday against the Utah Jazz, Russell was part of the Lakers’ closeout lineup, as he often is. And though his most memorable play might have been his missed three-point shot as time expired, what he did before that earned him the right to be there.
“I struggled on the offensive end but on the defensive end I tried to make every play,” Russell said. “Just to be on the floor. Coach has a lot of guys he can pick from to be on the floor to finish the game, so I’m trying to be one of those guys.”
Russell made only two of 11 shots Tuesday, and none of his three three-point attempts. He had four assists but no offensive rebounds, and he committed a turnover. In Lakers Coach Luke Walton’s eyes, though, those numbers did not reflect Russell’s performance accurately. Walton was especially impressed with Russell’s defense.
“I thought D’Angelo played really good last night, honestly,” Walton said. “… The way that we’re asking him to play defensively, he was more active than he’s been. He was calling out switches, he was fighting offensively. He had more of a push to his game as far as trying to help set the tone and pace we want to play with. He missed some shots that I think he makes most nights. Some good looks. … I just thought his shot didn’t go in for him, but I told him afterward I thought he played a very good game.”
Defense takes patience
In their last game, the Lakers faced a former Lakers assistant who has been through the process of turning around a bad defensive team.
Jazz Coach Quin Snyder remembers how difficult that was. The Jazz ranked dead last in defensive rating during the 2013-14 season, the year before Snyder came to them.
“For us, the defense was something we really wanted to commit to,” Snyder said. “That was hard because you don’t see the results right away. By the end of that year, I think our identity as a defensive club became more solidified.”
By the end of Snyder’s first season, they were all the way up to 12th, and this year the Jazz rank fourth.
“For players to believe and take ownership, the things you’re asking them to do are usually habitual,” Snyder said. “It’s mundane. It requires a commitment.”
As the Lakers attempt to go through that process now, Walton agrees with Snyder’s assessment. Results, he said, can be deceptive on both sides of the ball. A bad offensive play can result in points. A strong defensive showing can still lead to a team’s giving up points.
“It’s tricky because what we’re trying to do, a lot of times the stats might show that it’s not a good defense for us, but in reality if we played it harder and we’re over on the tag earlier it would’ve been a great defensive possession,” Walton said. “There’s a lot that goes into that. You can’t just look at the numbers and try to change things up. A lot of times you can just do what you do better.”
Lakers forward Thomas Robinson has shot 72.2% during the last four games, averaging 7.3 points and 8.8 rebounds during that time. … Forward Luol Deng nearly notched his third consecutive double-double against the Jazz, with nine points and nine rebounds. … Forward Julius Randle is one of seven NBA players averaging at least 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game this season. Heading into Thursday night, the others were Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap and Russell Westbrook.