Just two and a half weeks ago, D’Angelo Russell appeared to be crying on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench.

The scene happened during a regular season game against a rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers team where the Lakers were well on their way to a 134-110 blowout win. This was nothing close to an emotional playoff duel and the stakes were as low as they could have been for an official NBA game, so most assumed that Russell knew something about an imminent trade that would send him away from Los Angeles.

No trade materialized over the next two weeks though and Russell–together with the entire Laker roster–made it through the trade deadline unscathed. The incident at the Portland game turned out to be a false alarm with regards to a trade, although it seemed to have served as a wake-up call for the 27-year-old guard.

Beginning with that win over the Trail Blazers, Russell has played his best basketball of the season as the second overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft has averaged 22.7 points, four threes on 44.0% three-point shooting, 3.1 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 0.8 steals since.

The Lakers have won nine of the 13 games that they have played during this stretch, including six of their last seven which started off with a nine-point win over the East-leading Boston Celtics. What made this victory even more impressive was that they managed to win against a complete Celtics team even with LeBron James and Anthony Davis sidelined. Russell played a crucial role that evening as he tallied 16 points, four three-pointers, eight rebounds, 14 assists, two steals, and only one turnover.


Those 14 assists when they faced Boston were a season-high for Russell at the time, but he quickly set a new one in Los Angeles’ latest outing where they handily beat the Utah Jazz, 138-122. Russell handed out a career-high 17 assists in the win where he also added 11 points, nine rebounds, and a steal. His excellent playmaking led to big nights from Davis and Rui Hachimura who scored 37 and 36 points, respectively, to become the first Laker duo in 21 years to score at least 35 points each in the same game.

Russell’s production in thesepast three weeks is actually comparable with the numbers that he put up during his lone NBA All-Star campaign back in ‘18-’19 when he was still with the Brooklyn Nets. Curiously, Los Angeles just brought in Russell’s backcourt partner from that season, Spencer Dinwiddie, via the buyout market last week. The familiarity of this duo with one another should only help Russell as he tries to turn this hot streak into the new norm.

Los Angeles may not have been able to bring in another star to complement James and Davis, yet they do have a player who is talented enough to make it work in Russell. It has become apparent over his nine-year career that he can succeed in the right situations and the Lakers must find a way to bring out the best in him if they are to make a deep run come the postseason.

With less than a third of the regular season remaining, these next few weeks will be critical in determining the fate of this team. If they can enter the postseason–whether it be through the play-in or a guaranteed berth–with enough momentum, they could conceivably make another run at the Western Conference Finals and even the NBA Finals if things fall their way. There are no proven winners among the contenders in the West outside of the Denver Nuggets which gives this veteran Los Angeles group a bit of an edge.

The continued evolution and maturity of Russell will be an important theme to watch for the Lakers during this next month or so as he stands out as the biggest wildcard for this team. If he can maintain his current form and even take his game another level higher, this team could very well take a leap from dark horse contenders to bona fide threats to win the title.

Russell’s career may not have panned out the way that Los Angeles’ front office wanted it to when they drafted him almost nine years ago, but he still has a chance to be a difference maker for this franchise albeit in a slightly different manner.