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Darvin Ham Reacts to Lakers Star’s Poor Playoff Outing

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham

D’Angelo Russell has been here before.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Denver Nuggets in a playoff rematch that pits two of the best players in NBA history —LeBron James and Nikola Jokic —against each other for the third time. However, while the battle is headlined by juggernauts James and Jokic, Russell is once again the center of attention.

Going 6-20 from the floor in Game 1 of their First Round matchup, Russell had the lowest field percentage (30.0) of any player with at least 10 shot attempts. He also shot 1-9 from 3, the worst 3-point percentage (11.1) of any player with at least five 3-point attempts.

His stat line was an eye sore and, after his performance in the back half of the 2023-24 regular season, a bit unexpected. Given his playoff record, perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Nonetheless, at 28 years old, Russell’s firmly in his prime. If there was any time for him to change his playoff reputation, it’s now.

Darvin Ham Defends Lakers Star After Another Poor Playoff Outing

Yet, in Game 1, Russell looked not only like the player that’s shot 38.5 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3 throughout his career but the one that struggled mightily against the Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Western Conference Finals. While the Lakers were being swept by Denver, Russell averaged just 6.3 points per game on 32.3 percent shooting from the field and 13.3 percent from 3.

Russell has never been a particularly efficient player but he’s also rarely looked so pedestrian. At times, it was impossible to tell whether he was a former second overall pick or someone the Lakers found at LA Fitness. That goes not just for last year but last night.

Still, the Lakers stand by Russell. Speaking to reporters after the game, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham defended his point guard, saying “D-Lo is a huge reason why we’re here in the first place” (per ESPN reporter Dave McMenamin).

“I’m not going to bail out on my player just because he’s missing the shots that he normally makes,” Ham continues. “So same shots were going in against New Orleans [in the Play-In Tournament] and other games that he’s played in to help us get to this point. So it just wasn’t his night.”

To Ham’s point, Russell wasn’t taking shots that were out of the ordinary. To put it simply, his touch was just off. He couldn’t find water from the ocean.

D-Lo Encouraged

On his finishes, Russell seemed to lack either concentration or crispness. He took a couple of tough contested jumpers. However, he largely took shots within the flow of the offense.

“I just feel like sometimes the ball just don’t fall,” Russell says of his off night.

“I don’t recall the last time I got 20 shots,” he adds. “So for me to get 20 good looks — not 20 ‘good,’ probably five or six of them were questionable. I know what I’m capable of. So honestly, I’m excited. I’m excited about that.”

Strength In Numbers

If the Lakers want to take the Nuggets down, Russell’s shots have to start falling. Again, many of his attempts were makeable and didn’t undermine the integrity of the offense. However, if Russell can’t get it going for whatever reason, L.A. shouldn’t hesitate to use Austin Reaves or Rui Hachimura in some of the actions they put D-Lo in.

It’s only been a year since Reaves scored 16.9 points per game in the 2023 NBA Playoffs, shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from 3. Whether with the Lakers or Washington Wizards, Hachimura has been an efficient playoff scorer. Prior to Game 1, Hachimura was averaging 12.8 points per game on 57.3 percent shooting from the field and 51.9 percent from 3 for his playoff career.

Frankly, none of them may be reliable enough to be a true third option. Nonetheless, there’s strength in numbers. The Lakers would be wise to remember that.


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