Maligned Lakers Guard D’Angelo Russell Gets Shout-Out From Magic Johnson

Lakers legend Magic Johnson

Getty Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

Maligned guard D’Angelo Russell drew praise from Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson after he stepped up big in their 110-106 play-in win against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 16 to advance to the playoffs.

“D-Lo Russell made the two plays to seal the victory for the Lakers! First, the steal and then the 3-pointer in the corner,” Johnson posted on X, formerly Twitter, while also commending the Lakers superstar duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis’ leadership.

Russell, who overcame demotion to the bench and trade rumors this season, completed his heroics with the biggest plays down the stretch.

Tied at 99-99, Russell stole a Jose Alvarado pass which led to an Anthony Davis alley-oop dunk for a two-point Lakers lead with 1:23 to go. After former Lakers pick Larry Nance Jr. split his free throws to cut the Lakers’ lead to one, Russell hit a corner 3-pointer off Austin Reaves’ assist in front of the Pelicans bench in the final 51 seconds.

Russell’s clutch 3 capped his 21-point and 6-assist effort. His 13 points in the opening quarter kept the Lakers from getting blown out as they trailed the Pelicans 34-26 after the first 12 minutes.

“We know how good he is,” Reaves said of Russell. “In the first quarter, he single-handedly kept us in that game. It could have been way worse than what it was. If it wasn’t for him it could have been 15, 18 or 20 [points down].”

The Lakers used a 12-0 run in the opening minutes of the second quarter to wrest control of the game. They led by as many as 18 until the Pelicans rallied in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Then Russell finished what he started.

D’Angelo Russell’s Redemption

The opening round of the playoffs presents an opportunity for Russell to redeem himself.

“Just lock in,” Russell told Russell told Lakers sideline reporter Mike Trudell after their play-in victory. “Focus on the scouting report. Control what I can control.”

It was against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals that Russell began to lose Lakers coach Darvin Ham’s trust and subsequently his starting spot.

While Russell regained it at the start of the season, he again lost it in late December as he struggled with his shot. It also led to several trade rumors, the most notable among them was a swap with Atlanta Hawks’ Dejounte Murray.

But instead of sulking and getting his confidence killed, Russell used it as a motivation and honed his skills.

Once he returned to the starting lineup on January 13, there was no turning back for Russell.

In 41 games since then, Russell is averaging 20.8 points, 6.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 43% from the 3-point range. More importantly, he’s a plus-129 during this torrid Lakers stretch where they posted a 28-15 record, the sixth-best record in the league.

Trust Factor

His clutch plays against the Pelicans added to Russell’s burgeoning ledger of big moments this season — it’s up right there along with his game-winner against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 8 that punctuated his 44-point explosion.

“Just the trust factor,” Ham told reporters of Russell after beating the Pelicans twice in four days. “DLo can initiate, make a big play in big moments.”

Russell was efficient, shooting 7 of 14 from the field and 5 of 11 from deep.

“I just wanted to make shots man,” Russell told Trudell. “That’s what I do. Just continue to try to be a high-percentage shot maker for the team.”

They will need that and more from him when they face the Nuggets, who have beaten them in eight consecutive games dating back to last season’s conference finals.

Hopefully, Magic Johnson’s next Russell shoutout will be a Lakers series victory against the Nuggets.

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