Coach Luke Walton claimed his Los Angeles Lakers never really got into an offensive flow, even if the 125 points they dropped on the Brooklyn Nets suggested otherwise.
Imagine what might happen if Walton’s surprising young squad actually finds its groove.
Louisville native D’Angelo Russell scored 32 points and former University of Kentucky star Julius Randle added 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his second career triple-double in Los Angeles’ 125-118 victory Tuesday night.
Timofey Mozgov had 20 points and six rebounds for the Lakers, who maintained a steady lead down the stretch of their fourth win in five games at Staples Center this season. With six wins in eight games overall, the Lakers (7-5) are two games above .500 for just the second time since April 2013.
Randle finished with a plus-minus of 15. While his performance featured plenty of positives, Walton wanted more from him.
“As good as he played tonight, there’s probably nine, 10, 11, 12 times where he didn’t get himself involved in the play,” Walton said. “Whether it was not getting all the way back on defense, not plugging the paint on the help side drive.”
But even as he asked for more, Walton listed all the ways in which Randle’s development showed.
“His ability to create for others, to get to the rim,” Walton said. “Now he’s starting to hit that midrange jumper a little more consistently.
“He’s figuring out and I think starting to believe in what he can really do in this league.”
The belief goes both ways for Randle.
“It comes from work ethic,” he said. “Every day grinding out. Just trying to get better every day. … Also comes from coach’s belief in me to make plays and be a playmaker.
“Whatever it is, they trust me out there to be involved in a lot of what we’re doing. When you have the belief of coach, obviously it’s going to make your confidence go up.”
Russell hit seven three-pointers and had eight rebounds for the Lakers, who didn’t win seven games until New Year’s Day last season, the worst in the 16-time NBA champion franchise’s history.
Russell had the highest-scoring individual performance by any player this season for the Lakers, whose 10-deep player rotations and balanced production have made them particularly tough to play. Russell lit up Brooklyn again after scoring a career-high 39 on the Nets last year, including eight three-pointers that prompted his now-famous “Ice in My Veins” celebration of big shots.
“He was really good early on,” Walton said of Russell. “He was active on defense, which is what I was most impressed and happy with. It feels like every time he has one of these big games, he starts the game making plays for us on the defensive end.”