LOS ANGELES — D’Angelo Russell, in the “flow state” that he has regularly described this season, took two dribbles to the right and fired up a fadeaway 3-pointer over Zion Williamson.
As Russell’s shot banged in — his fourth consecutive 3 to start the second quarter — he pointed at the Pelicans as they called timeout before beelining toward the Lakers’ bench and waving his arms to the crowd.
In his first game back after missing Thursday night’s loss to Denver because of knee treatment, Russell scored a team-high 30 points and swung the momentum decidedly in the Lakers’ favor in their 139-122 win Friday over New Orleans.
“When DLo sees a couple go in, I mean, I got about a 97 percent guess rate correct when he’s about to shoot it,” Austin Reaves said. “I can tell you every time. And I love it. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
Los Angeles improved to 28-26 and has won four of its past five games. This was an important victory considering the Pelicans (30-22) are ahead of the Lakers in the West standings but not to the extent that they’re not catchable.
All five Lakers starters scored 20-plus points, an amazing feat, even in the age of offense. It was the first time each player in a starting group had scored 20-plus points in a game since 1993, and the first time a Lakers starting unit had done so since Nov. 4, 1984. Reaves finished with 27, LeBron James had 21 points and 14 assists, Rui Hachimura added 21 points and Anthony Davis 20. The Lakers produced a season-best 87-point first half, which included a franchise-record-tying 51-point second quarter.
The offense has been on the uptick over the past month, replacing the defense as the team’s core strength. A large part of that has been achieved by the rise in play from Russell. His post-tailbone injury surge — 22.6 points on a 61.1 true shooting percentage and 6.3 assists over the past 17 games — has been the driving force as he’s enjoying one of the best stretches of his career.
Since Russell’s return on Jan. 7, the Lakers rank 10th in offensive rating (and just 20th in defensive rating).
“When you have the ability to shoot the ball like that, you’re going to always keep the defense at bay,” James said. “They never know if you’re going to shoot, if you’re going to drive, whatever the case may be. And his range is pretty uncanny. There’s only a few guys obviously in our league that can come down with the dribble and just raise from anywhere. And he’s one of those guys.”
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said Russell “saved our ass a little bit” against the Pelicans.
“Honestly, there’s no thought,” Russell said. “There’s no extra will. No none of that. I’ve just kind of found a pocket where I can reach my flow state around these guys within the game. So, when I’m out there, I’m not thinking about anything. I’m not thinking about score 20 points consecutively in 12 games or all that. I’d rather just play and these are the results.”
Russell clarified that his knee is “good” but added he’s still getting “comfortable” post-treatment.
In his first comments since the trade deadline, Russell was asked how his mindset has changed now that he wasn’t traded.
“Nothing changes,” Russell said.
Were there any emotions after the deadline passed?
“Emotionless,” Russell said. “Still.”
One thing that could change soon is the roster. On hand to watch the offensive explosion was free agent guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who, according to team sources not authorized to speak publicly, is the Lakers’ top target on the buyout market after the team struck out ahead of the trade deadline. Dinwiddie sat alongside Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka and co-owners Jesse and Joey Buss in the Lakers’ new bunker-style suites, eventually walking with Pelinka past the Lakers’ bench and to the locker room right before the buzzer.
Dinwiddie was traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday and was immediately waived. He’s expected to decide between the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, according to team and league sources.
He sat behind the Mavericks bench Thursday night at Madison Square Garden and met with team officials in New York City. He played for Dallas during parts of the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons, including making a conference finals run in 2022. The Mavericks can offer more money than the Lakers ($5.3 million vs. $1.5 million) and have no state income taxes. That could be the deciding factor.
Here’s a photo for those asking for another angle: pic.twitter.com/cVYKYT7DGv
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) February 10, 2024
However, the 30-year-old Los Angeles native still has notable ties to this city, and would potentially have a bigger role with the Lakers as the team’s third guard. Theoretically, he could close on nights that Reaves or Russell is struggling (and possibly even next to them situationally in three-guard lineups, of which Ham has historically been fond).
Dinwiddie averaged 12.6 points and 6.0 assists in 48 starts for the Nets this season. He shot only 32.0 percent on 3s, but averaged 17.1 points and shot 40.4 percent on 3s across his 76 regular season games in Dallas.
“He’s a big guard, shotmaker, playmaker,” Davis said of Dinwiddie. “Obviously, we’ve seen what he did with Brooklyn, what he did with Dallas making big plays for them.”
Dinwiddie has the co-sign of James, which is important considering James’ known desire for the Lakers to improve their roster.
“Playmaking, another ballhandler, another shotmaker,” James said. “Another guy, another veteran. Anytime you can add a veteran with that ability, it helps. So we’ll see what happens.”
Russell, Dinwiddie’s teammate in Brooklyn from 2017 through 2019, is optimistic about Dinwiddie’s impending decision.
“I’m a fan,” Russell said. “But y’all will get to know him soon.”
(Photo of Trey Murphy III and D’Angelo Russell Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)