Russell’s 39 points not enough as Lakers fall to Jazz

Rob Gray- USA Today Sports
The shorthanded Lakers without LeBron James tried to lean on D'Angelo Russell's 39 points but it still wasn't enough to pick up a victory.

The Los Angeles Lakers have been going in a downward trajectory for a while now and Saturday night was no different. Despite not having LeBron James (who was ruled out due to his ankle) the Lakers impressed in the first half but just couldn’t hang on against a Utah Jazz team that has won 10 out of their last 12 games. D’Angelo Russell put up 39 points on 6-11 from the floor amidst all of the trade rumors and Rui Hachimura was a spark off of the bench in his first game back from injury as well. However, Anthony Davis went just 5-21 from the floor and couldn’t get anything going all night, and as a result that was the big difference in the game.

Here are my three takeaways from the game:

There has been a lot of talk surrounding D’Angelo Russell recently whether it has had to do with trade rumors circling or how Darvin Ham utilizes him off of the bench. Regardless of the trade rumors and usage questions entering Saturday’s game, Russell put together his best performance of the season finishing with 39 points on 6-11 from the floor in 41 minutes. It felt like Russell simply couldn’t miss the whole night and the Lakers suffered immensely in the 7 minutes he was on the bench as a result.

There have been many questions about the Lakers offense this season as it has undoubtedly been the biggest hurdle in this team reaching its potential. Quite frankly, the offense is atrocious and the numbers back that up with an offensive rating of 112.2, ranked 23rd in the NBA, and a 3PT% of 35.6%, ranked 22nd in NBA. Though Russell is likely to be traded before the deadline, he is actually one of the only offensive weapons the team has at the moment and it begs the question would the team become worse if they move him because of the lack of offense? Unless the Lakers can get a better offensive player than Russell who can contribute more defensively, then the answer is yes the team in fact would be worse without him.

Though he will never be great on the defensive end of the floor, Russell can run the pick and roll better to perfection, is great at changing pace, and is one of the better point guard playmakers in the NBA. It is hard to imagine the Lakers getting back a better offensive player than Russell in a trade right now without giving up extreme depth and Lakers brass should understand the value Russell has on the offensive end of the floor.

Rui Hachimura played in his first game since December 31st and took over on the offensive end finishing with 17 points on 6-12 from the floor in just 19 minutes played. Hachimura also went 5-6 from the free throw line and provided some much-needed secondary scoring to Russell and Austin Reaves if they couldn’t get good shots off. Hachimura was pivotal for the Lakers in the playoffs last season and whenever he gets the chance to score the basketball, he does it with ease.

Hachimura has one of the best mid-range jumpers in the NBA and can get to the rim and create for others when needed to as well. One would think with the offensive struggles the Lakers are having this year that Hachimura would have played 35+ minutes in at least one game this season, but he hasn’t. In fact, Hachimura has played less than 24 minutes in 4 out of his last 10 games healthy despite being a focal point off of the bench. What remains evident is that the Lakers need offensive help so it would be wise to implement Hachimura as a bigger part of this offense moving forward if the team wants to move in the right direction.

Anthony Davis is having arguably the best season of his career on both ends of the floor but on Saturday night he looked like a fragment of himself. Davis went 5-21 from the floor with 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists, but he also committed a team high 6 turnovers. The 11 assists is a positive from this game and there is no doubt that Davis’ playmaking has been on full display this season, but 5-21 from the floor is unusual for a superstar as dominant as himself.

Davis’ 56.2 FG% ranks 18th in the NBA and his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 25.69 is ranked 7th in the entire NBA. This is the second game in a row that Davis failed to produce 20+ points after a stellar month-long stretch of jaw dropping performances. With James dealing with an ankle injury and offensive players other than Russell and Hachimura failing to step up, the Lakers can’t afford many more of these Davis games if they want to get back on the right track.

The Lakers will look to get back on track against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night at Arena.

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