The Los Angeles Lakers lost an exciting, competitive game to the Charlotte Hornets Tuesday night, 109-104. It was a welcome sign that the purple and gold played the game with much greater energy and passion than usual, which allowed them to forge an early seven-point lead. However, their inability to defend with even a modicum of skill allowed the offensively-challenged Hornets to score 58 first half points as well as the key shots with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers were led by D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson. Tarik Black had an outstanding third quarter in which he scored 11 points, which kept the Lakers in the game. In the end, however, it was not enough to hold off the reeling Hornets, who entered the contest as losers of 13 of their past 15 games.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from the loss to the Hornets.
1. Julius Randle Was a Monster
The Julius Randle who showed up to play the Hornets was the dominant player the Lakers dreamed about for three years, the player they hoped they had drafted when he left college after a single season at the University of Kentucky. He was focused, he was energized, and he hustled the entire game. Randle finished with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, 18 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. He was locked in the entire game.
Where has this Randle been the past two months? Will we see him again anytime soon? That is the key question as the team looks forward to the next context. So often this season he has looked flat and disinterested, but not Tuesday night. He was a monster.
This is the Randle the Lakers need on a consistent basis. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up.
2. D’Angelo Russell Continued His Recent String of Good Games
Russell was aggressive from the start, and while he did not do much in the second and third quarters, he re-emerged late in the game and made two key three-point shots that kept the game close. Russell played with confidence and ran the offense effectively. If he could ever learn to play that way for an entire game, he would begin to meet some of the high expectations placed on him.
Against the Hornets, Russell had a strong stat line, finishing with 23 points, nine assists, and two steals. He did have three turnovers, which is too high, but they were not all his fault.
Since the All-Star break, Russell has put together three consecutive performances where he has played well. It is this kind of consistency the Lakers have been looking for. With 21 games left in the season, all eyes will be on Russell to see if he can have a true breakthrough as an NBA player late in his second season in the league.
3. Luol Deng Did Not Play
Last month, center Timofey Mozgov lost his starting role and has not played a minute since. Deng was also demoted but continued to see the court with the second unit. That is, until Tuesday night, when Deng joined Mozgov on the bench which meant, for the first time, neither saw any playing time.
It appears as though Mozgov’s season is over, and it may be the same for Deng. The Lakers seem committed at this stage to giving more opportunities to the younger players.
Should this occur, it means that the two highest paid players on the roster – by far – are both out of the rotation entirely. Unfortunately, the team still owes these two veterans over one hundred million dollars the next three years. What a debacle.