Lakers Guard Facing Controversial Demotion After Loss to Nuggets

D'Angelo Russell

Getty D'Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers are facing a tough decision on D’Angelo Russell’s role after a disappointing Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Russell has started every game this postseason with the Lakers and has averaged 15.7 points, 5.0 assists on 44.5% shooting from the field. But Russell was atrocious during Game 1 in Denver and played a playoff-low 26 minutes.

“I felt we did a great job on D’Angelo Russell — so great that he wasn’t even in the game much in the second half,” Malone said after the Game 1 win.

In his limited time on the court, Russell was minus-25 and the Lakers might have to go with a larger lineup to help shift the momentum and battle the Nuggets’ size.

The Lakers are eyeing a change to their starting lineup, which could send either Russell or Dennis Schroder to the bench. But the Lakers are very aware that sending Russell to the bench could have implications beyond the series, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“… [Russell] would naturally be under consideration; however, multiple team sources told ESPN that there is concern the team could ‘lose’ the 27-year-old point guard if he views the adjustment as a demotion after starting every other game this postseason,” McMenamin reported. “Schroder has already shown he can be comfortable as a substitute, as he didn’t start until Game 6 against Golden State. Russell got up extra shots after the game on the court while still in uniform.”

Lakers See D’Angelo Russell as Long-Term Piece

Russell will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and the Lakers are hoping to keep him around on a new deal. If he feels slighted by a move to the bench, that could significantly hamper their plans.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka made it clear that when they traded for Russell at the deadline, the plan was to keep him beyond this season.

“I think D’Angelo has shown a lot of growth since we had him here,” Pelinka said in February. “We do see him not just as a player that’s a short-term rental. So, we think that he’s a player that can really fit nicely, again, with our core pieces of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, just bringing spacing and shooting and playmaking and efficiency.”

Russell was a key piece for the Lakers as they hunted down a playoff spot. He averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists and shot 41.4% during his 17 regular-season appearances with the Lakers.

Lakers Couldn’t Recover From Nuggets’ Opening ‘Punch’

The Lakers found themselves in a hole very fast in Game 1 against the Nuggets and had to claw their way back into the game. LA got to within three points in the fourth quarter but weren’t able to finish off the comeback.

“Yeah, it took us a half to get into the game,” Lakers star LeBron James said, “and that was pretty much the ballgame right there. They punched us in the mouth to start. … I know the game is won in 48 minutes, but they set the tone in 24 minutes and we were playing catch-up for the next 24.”

The Lakers now have to regroup and come up with some adjustments. Will is be Russell heading to the bench? Or will head coach Darvin Ham opt to move Schroder into that reserve role to preserve the relationship? It’s a tough call but Ham is confident his squad will come out better in Game 2.

“Thank God it’s the best-of-seven and it’s not the NCAA Tournament,” Ham said. “It’s the first to four. We’ll be OK, trust me.”

Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday at Ball Arena in Denver. The Nuggets are a 5.5-point favorite for that matchup.

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