After a day off to rest his knee, D'Angelo Russell expects to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday evening in North Carolina, as the LA Lakers face the Charlotte Hornets in their fifth game of the seven-game road trip.
LA is 1-4 since departing from the relative warmth of Southern California, but the team has displayed a renewed jump in energy over the past couple of games. Even without Russell in the lineup, the Lakers stayed competitive with the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Philadelphia 76ers in a wire-to-wire victory on the front end of the trip.
A return to health and form from the likes of Russell and Nick Young has boosted LA, after the team had been on an eight-game losing streak prior to the win in Philadelphia. Young scored 32 points in the loss to Cleveland on 12-19 shooting, including 8-14 from three-point land. Young also played an efficient 21 minutes against the Sixers a night earlier, making 5-9 from the field for 15 points.
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Russell played four games in four different cities over six nights before sitting out in Cleveland, with the official injury report listing "rest." Russell practiced on Monday and expects to play on Tuesday without any limitations, but the 20-year-old did miss 11 straight games with a sore knee prior to stretch of four games in six days.
Everything considered, sitting out one odd game following a quick comeback is not cause for concern, but if Russell continues to struggle to stay in the lineup going forward, especially as the Lakers' schedule eases up, alarm bells should be sounding inside the Lakers' training room.
The Lakers enter Tuesday's game with a record of 11-19, which is still within sight of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, current held by the 13-16 Portland Trail Blazers. The Hornets, however, are not exactly pushovers. With a record of 15-13, Charlotte is the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference. Incidentally, that record would place the Hornets as the eighth-best team in the West.
Ahead of Tuesday's game, Charlotte has lost four of its last five, but all four of those loses came on the road. Point guard Kemba Walker leads the Hornets with 22.4 points to go along with 5.3 assists per game. Nicolas Batum leads the team in minutes, 33.5, and assists, 5.4, to go along with 13.7 points per game. Largely riding that combination, the Hornets currently lead the Southeast Division and look like legitimate playoff contenders.
Tip-off is at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time.