D'Angelo Russell returned to the starting lineup on Sunday due to Nick Young sitting out with gastroenteritis, and the 21-year-old had a record night. Along with setting a career-high with 40 points, the 21-year-old Russell became the youngest LA Lakers' player ever to score 40 points in a regular season game.
The fact that Russell scored 40 points was impressive enough, but that he did it against LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers seemed to mean a bit more.
"I think it started with him knocking down shots," Lakers coach Luke Walton said about Russell's special night. "I think we've all seen him when he gets going, he's tough to handle. What was most impressive offensively to me, because I already know he can shoot the ball, he did a great job of mixing up and trying to get into the paint and play-making."
Walton added, "On offense, purposely calling certain plays to get people the ball and coming off picks and making the correct decisions...just his overall aggression was as good as I've seen."
In the end, the Cavaliers walked away 125-120 winners behind 46 points from Irving and 34 points, seven assists and six rebounds from James, but the talk for the young Lakers centered on how Russell and Jordan Clarkson fit into the backcourt together.
"We'll continue to try that lineup going forward and see if we can make that chemistry between the two of them a normal thing," Walton said after the game.
The coach revealed that the numbers behind the combination had been less than impressive statistically in the past, and when Clarkson earned his chance to start, the Lakers initially dropped Russell to the bench in a role that did not seem to suit him at all.
Russell's return to the starting lineup alongside Clarkson, though, now provides Walton and the Lakers a fresh look at the combination for the remainder of the season. The coach stated that Clarkson is still meant to act as the primary playmaker when the opposing team scores, but on misses, Walton wanted whichever player naturally was "floating near" the ball to take hold of the role.
Walton added that if Julius Randle is the big man that grabs the rebound, he has a tendency to push the ball anyhow, which served as a reminder of how versitile the Lakers could be with three players capable of bringing the ball up the court and serving as ball handlers.
"We think he can (play off ball)," Walton said about Russell but conceded, "Part of the reason we're doing this is to get more information on it."