NBA News & Notes: Lakers rookie Russell shows promise

March 8, 2016

In the DSH's latest NBA News and Notes report, we take a look at Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell, and also examine the Warriors' latest accomplishment:

Lakers' Russell showing improvement

After an absolutely atrocious Summer League effort in which he played like a borderline D-League 12th man, and following an inconsistent regular season, LA Lakers rookie guard D'Angelo Russell finally has started to look worthy of his second overall draft selection in the past few games.

Russell has marked his return to the starting lineup with some of the best performances of his rookie season, averaging 19.9 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 49.0 percent from three-point range in his last eight games. That stretch includes five 20-point efforts and the first 39-point outing by a Lakers rookie since Elgin Baylor in 1959.

Russell leads all rookies with 106 three-pointers and ranks fourth among first-year players in scoring at 13.1 points per game.

While Russell has had an inferior season overall compared to third and fourth selections Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis, respectively, he now at least is showing a glimmer of his future potential that could make him a quality player in the long run.

What we know of Russell is that he has a real nice mid-range game, and is a pretty decent three-point shooter, albeit a bit streaky.  While he still has yet to prove he can get to the rim on his own without a pick, or finish consistently once he gets there, he at least is a willing passer with good court vision who will regularly look for the "roll" man in any screen-roll action.

Russell is an average to below average athlete at his position, does not always push the pace in transition, and is a sub-par -- some might say lazy -- defender, who fails to fight over screens as hard as he should while struggling to contain his man.  Still, he has an element of self-belief and confidence about him that leads one to think he eventually will "get it."

Throughout this season, the local media has bashed Byron Scott about not giving Russell enough playing time in an otherwise lost season.  Surprisingly, this recent uptick in Russell's play does not prove them right, but instead shows Scott knew what he was doing.

Scott's responsibility ultimately is to teach this rookie to play the right way.  After Russell showed very little production and appeared over his head in Summer League and training camp, Byron elected, wisely, to bring him along gradually and use the bench as motivation.

It's not as if Russell never saw the floor either.  He was mercifully gifted a start on opening night, and played roughly twenty minutes per game every night in a reserve role.  Nevertheless, the critics howled that Russell was being unnecessarily restricted, without first thinking that perhaps Scott was trying to avoid creating a sense of entitlement with his pupil by making him earn his minutes.

It used to be commonplace in the NBA that rookies -- who unlike today, often had four years of college under their belts and actually were more ready to perform -- had to earn their way.  Rookie bigs never had plays called for them because they first had to earn their keep blocking shots and crashing the glass.

Now apparently, we live in an instant gratification world, where a one-and-done kid who couldn't lead his team into the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament should be awarded all the minutes he wants at the NBA level without first learning how to play within the team concept, offensively and defensively.

But perhaps the most unusual thing about the Scott critiques was the absolute gutlessness to call out Lakers management first.

Management put the team's horrific roster together, missed on Porzingis, and whiffed two straight offseasons in free agency, yet all season long we heard not a peep from the local media about Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

Kupchak stated that last year's team could contend for a title, and that this year's squad would contend for a playoff spot.  Such statements are either deliberate falsehoods by the team's GM to trick the fans into buying tickets for an overvalued product, or a blatant inability to evaluate talent by the one person who is paid to evaluate basketball talent.

Perhaps journalists were petrified about losing their press credentials, or perhaps they were simply clueless, but for some reason they found Scott to be an easy target and gave Kupchak and Buss a free pass.

Scott hasn't been perfect, and his catering to a washed-up Kobe Bryant has been detrimental to the team overall, but when it came to Russell, he was absolutely correct.

Warriors set NBA record

The 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors established an NBA record with their 45th consecutive regular-season home victory with Monday’s 119-113 win versus the Orlando Magic at Oracle Arena, surpassing the mark of 44-straight regular-season home wins set by the Chicago Bulls from March 30, 1995 to April 4, 1996. Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr was also a member of the Bulls team that held the previous NBA record.

The Warriors, who last lost at home in the regular season on Jan. 27, 2015, in overtime to Chicago (111-113), have outscored their opponents by an average of 14.0 points at home since the streak began on Jan. 31, 2015 versus Phoenix.

The club closed out the 2014-15 season with 18-straight regular-season wins at home and has won 27-straight games at Oracle Arena to begin the 2015-16 campaign, a franchise-best start at home. Coupled with the Warriors’ previous franchise-best mark of 19-straight regular-season home wins set last season from Nov. 13, 2014 to Jan. 25, 2015, Golden State has won 64 of its last 65 regular-season home contests.

Golden State’s NBA-record regular-season home winning streak features three contests decided in overtime (Nov. 14, 2015 vs. Brooklyn; Jan. 2, 2016 vs. Denver; March 1, 2016 vs. Atlanta), three wire-to-wire wins and eight double-digit comebacks, including a 22-point come-from-behind win on Feb. 4, 2015 vs. Dallas, the team’s largest comeback of the streak.

The Warriors’ largest victory during the streak was a 50-point win on Nov. 2, 2015, over Memphis (119-69), and the team’s narrowest margin of victory came on April 2, 2015 vs. Phoenix (107-106), a one-point win sealed with a game-winning shot by Harrison Barnes with 0.4 seconds remaining.

With Monday’s win, the Warriors own a 56-6 (.903) mark during the 2015-16 campaign, the best record in NBA history through the season’s first 62 games. The Warriors’ NBA-record home winning streak comprises 45 of the team’s 161 consecutive home sellouts, which began on Dec. 18, 2012, and is the seventh-longest active sellout streak in the NBA.

Antetokounmpo displaying full range of skills

Proving he's more than just a leaper who can dunk, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has been bringing all his skills to bear lately. The third-year forward has recorded all three of his career triple-doubles in his last seven games, and he missed a fourth by one rebound.

The 21-year-old is the first Buck with three triple-doubles in a season since Alvin Robertson in 1990-91. Antetokounmpo is posting career highs across the board, from points, rebounds and assists, to blocks and steals, to field goal percentage and free throw percentage. He is one of five players averaging at least 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal, according to, joining DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol and Paul Millsap.

LeBron passes Duncan in one category

Cleveland’s LeBron James has been tormented by San Antonio’s Tim Duncan over the years, having lost two out of three head-to-head Finals matchups against him (arguably should have been three of three, but for Ray Allen's bail out trey in a close Game 6 years ago).

On Saturday however, James surpassed his foe in one individual category, passing Duncan for 14th place on the NBA’s career scoring list. James (26,378 points) moved into third place among active players, behind the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (33,335, third all time) and Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (29,136, sixth all time).

In addition, James is only 20 assists shy of supplanting Kevin Johnson (6,711) for 19th place in NBA history.

Marcus Smart fined

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been fined $15,000 for making an obscene gesture, it was announced by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter of the Celtics’ 105-104 win over the New York Knicks on March 4 at TD Garden.

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard named NBA Players of the Week

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively.

James led the Cavaliers to a 3-0 week behind averages of 26.7 points (fifth in the Eastern Conference), 9.7 rebounds (tied-eighth in the conference), 6.3 assists (tied-eighth in the conference) and 2.33 steals (tied-fourth in the conference).  James opened the week with a 33-point outing in a 100-96 win over the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 29.  He closed the week with back-to-back point-rebound double-doubles, including a 28-point, 11-board effort during a 120-103 win over the Boston Celtics on March 5.

Leonard led the Spurs to the Western Conference’s lone perfect record for the week at 3-0.  He averaged a double-double with 27.3 points (fourth in the conference) and 10.0 rebounds, and added 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals.  Leonard connected on 6-of-10 three-point field goals during a 30-point, 11-rebound performance in a 94-86 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on March 3.

Other nominees for the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, Indiana’s Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, Miami’s Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, Phoenix’s Alex Len, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.

Talking Smack

  • Paul Coro, Arizona Republic: “Earl Watson played in seven NBA cities and had more head coaches (14) than seasons (13) but nothing in his professional playing career formed who he is as a new head coach more than his time in Memphis with Hubie Brown.”
  • Hassan Whiteside, Heat center: “You know when it's a rainy day and you get hot chocolate and you put a nice movie on and you tuck yourself in? That's how comfortable I feel at the free-throw line.”
  • Ed Davis, Trail Blazers forward: “I think [teammate Damian Lillard] can do it all. I believe in him, so if he tells me, ‘Hey, man, I'm about to score 20 points in two minutes,’ I really think he’s gonna do it.”

What to Watch

Tuesday, March 8: John Wall and Damian Lillard match up at point guard as Washington visits Portland at 10 p.m. on NBA TV.

Wednesday, March 9: In the opener of ESPN’s doubleheader, Boston puts its 13-game home winning streak on the line against Memphis (7 p.m.). The second game features the Thunder and Clippers (9:30 p.m.), two teams separated by one game in the loss column right now in the race for third place in the West.

Thursday, March 10: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James meet for the final time when the Cavaliers visit the Lakers at 10:30 p.m. on TNT. The network’s doubleheader opens with the Bulls visiting the Spurs, who will be looking for their 40th straight home regular-season win (8 p.m.).

Friday, March 11: The Trail Blazers and Warriors meet (10:30 p.m., NBA LP) for the first time since Portland defeated Golden State 137-105 behind Damian Lillard’s 51 points on Feb. 19. Lillard (two) and Stephen Curry (three) are the only players with multiple 50-point games this season.

Saturday, March 12: Oklahoma City and San Antonio face each other (8:30 p.m., ABC) for the first time since opening night, the first of three remaining regular-season matchups between the West powers.

Sunday, March 13: The Clippers play host to the Cavaliers (3:30 p.m., ABC) before embarking on a five-game road trip next week.

The Numbers

  • Jazz forward Derrick Favors had 28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots in Saturday’s win over New Orleans, making him the only player this season with more than one game of at least 25 points, 10 boards and five blocks.
  • Pacers forward Paul George has scored at least 30 points in 20 of 63 games this season. He entered this season with 15 career 30-point performances in 292 games.
  • Heat guard Goran Dragic is averaging 19.2 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds in his last 10 games – an 8-2 stretch for Miami, which has closed within a half-game of Boston for third place in the East.
  • Miami guard Dwyane Wade needs 70 points to reach 20,000 for his career.
  • The Mavericks on Sunday played their NBA-high 11th overtime game this season (7-4), three shy of the league record. The 1990-91 76ers played 14 overtime games.
  • Rockets guard James Harden is averaging 36.6 points, 7.4 assists and 6.0 rebounds in his last seven games.
  • Suns center Alex Len is averaging 19.0 points and 12.4 rebounds in eight games since the All-Star break.
  • The Pistons have matched last season's win total (32) in 63 games.
  • Nuggets guard D.J. Augustin is averaging 12.8 points in 23.2 minutes over nine games since being acquired from Oklahoma City.

By Staff of and news services

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