On Monday, D'Angelo Russell said he did not know whether he would play on Tuesday night at Staples Center when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Denver Nuggets, but NBC4 has learned that the point guard had been cleared by the team's training staff.
Russell explained plainly what would be the determining factor on returning to the court: "How I feel before the game starts."
The 20-year-old fell awkwardly about a minute into the Lakers' game against the Indiana Pacers 11 days earlier. Including that one minute cameo as a missed game, the second-year starter will sit on 17 games missed due to knee injuries with the Lakers having completed 50 games. That comes out to slightly more than a third of the season, thus far.
In many ways, Russell's development in his sophomore season has been severely stunted due to the injuries and the subsequent time required to shake off the rust and return to game flow.
"Honestly, just watching him develop and continue to build the type of chemistry point guards need to have with their teammates on the floor," Lakers coach Luke Walton spoke to what he had missed most about Russell sitting out. "All this time is crucial for what we're trying to get to. We need him out there for those minutes and those opportunities."
Though hardly shouldering the entire blame, the Lakers' front-loaded rigorous schedule has not helped the hobbling point guard. The Lakers are one of only two teams to have played 50 games as of Monday morning.
The team's hope, of course, is that Russell can stay healthy until the All-Star break in the middle of February. The time off combined with a less strenuous final stretch of the season, from a scheduling perspective, could prove to be an invaluable time in helping Russell and the young Lakers develop as a whole.
After all, Russell first began experiencing knee problems about 12 games into the season. At that point, he was averaging 16.8 points, 4.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game. The Lakers were 7-5 at the time. From that point forward, LA has gone on to lose 20 of their 29 games, and Russell's inability to stay healthy has played an undeniable role in that decline.
Note: Lakers forward Julius Randle was not at Monday's practice and was recently diagnosed with pneumonia. Walton said that he's less confident in Randle's playing on Tuesday's game than in Russell potentially making a return against the Nuggets.