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D’Angelo Russell returns to L.A. for yet another big game

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Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

For those of you who are somehow not yet aware, the Nets mounted the greatest comeback in franchise history against the Kings on Tuesday night. Was I asleep for it? I’d prefer not to say. But it was incredible either way. The Nets are in the home stretch here, and are holding onto a playoff spot still. Amazing. Their next game is against the Lakers, who are decidedly not holding onto a playoff spot. The Nets might even have a chance to knock them out of the race altogether! It’s going to be a fun one. Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

YES and WFAN at 10:30pm, ET. Extra late.

Injuries

Allen Crabbe (knee) is out. Shabazz Napier (illness) available

Lonzo Ball (ankle) and Brandon Ingram (DVT) are out for the rest of the season. LeBron James (groin) and Lance Stephenson (toe) are day to day. Don’t expect LBJ to miss this one.

The Game

D’Angelo Russell truly went Sicko Mode against the Kings in the fourth quarter and you know he’s going to want to ride that hot streak into the Staples Center to potentially knock the Lakers out of the playoffs. The last time he played against his former team, he put up 22 and 13 and hit an absolute dagger to give the Nets the win. Another big performance might elevate this run by D’Angelo to legendary status following that 44 and 12 game against the Kings and even a 32 and 10 performance against the Clippers. DLo is enjoying California so far.

We will be watching a depleted and largely unmotivated Lakers team in this one. LeBron has thrown in the towel, playing limited minutes in the games he chooses to participate in, and with Lonzo and Ingram out, even their young core is weaker than normal. That means we’re going to see a lot of Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Kuzma is pretty good, averaging 18.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, but other than him the rest of this team is filled with guys who are decidedly Not Scary. Who else is a big scoring threat? JaVale McGee? Reggie Bullock? Mike Muscala? Not the most intimidating bunch.

During their fourth quarter run against the Kings, the Nets used a lineup of Russell, Rodions Kurucs, Treveon Graham, Jared Dudley, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Essentially DLo with four power forwards, and it worked! That lineup is big and long without sacrificing too much shooting or mobility. RHJ as center is something we’ve seen Kenny dabble with earlier in the season, but his Lack of shooting has recently sent him to the bench for long periods of time. Like, games long. He came out ready to play against the Kings and ended up hitting the game-winning layup. Would not be shocked to see him get some earlier minutes against the Lakers in this one.

Since the All Star Break, the Lakers have the 26th ranked offensive rating, the 24th ranked defensive rating, and the 28th ranked net rating. Not good. Like, at all. The Nets in the same timespan are 28th in offense but 4th in defense, making them 15th in net rating, right smack dab in the middle of the league. The Lakers also have a hard time rebounding, which is something the Nets might be able to take advantage of, especially if we see more super long lineups like we did at the end of that Kings game. RHJ at center is obviously undersized, but the wings are plenty long enough to grab rebounds over their counterparts in that scenario.

This game is extra important for the Nets, as it’ll be their last matchup with a non-playoff team of the entire season, assuming Miami holds onto the eighth seed. That seems like a pretty wild statistic, with there being still eight games left after this one. Heading into this one, Brooklyn is a half game out of the six seed and a game ahead of Miami at eight. It seems pretty likely the Nets will be able to lock up a spot over the next two weeks, but some insurance never hurt anyone. A win would also give the Nets a season sweep against the Lakers for the first time since 2014-15, and it would also push them to 38 wins which would land them in striking distance of a .500 record or better. An impossible thought not only before this season started, but at times during it as well. It’s been a fun ride.

Oh yeah. Looking for more motivation: Lakers are eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Nets tonight.

Player to Watch

I guess I’ll go with Rajon Rondo, who has been one of the more polarizing players of the NBA in the last decade or so. The guy won a ring early in his career, starting for that 2007-08 Celtics championship team in his second season. He’s always been touted for his passing and occasionally for his defense, and last season we saw him basically on court coach the Pelicans to an improbable first round upset sweep over the Trail Blazers. He came over to LA on a one year mercenary deal to help shepard this young Lakers team into the next era, which is the LeBron era, and also just soak up some minutes while Lonzo developed. It’s worked as well as one might have expected it to, which means it’s been fine. Rondo is averaging 9.2 points and 7.7 assists per game, and he’s actually been a surprisingly effective shooter from deep with splits of 42/36/66. He isn’t Ray Allen, but 36% from deep isn’t the worst mark in the world. Regardless, he’s going to run some pick and roll and play annoying defense and shout at teammates and opposing players and refs and maybe a coach or two. He’s always interesting.

Playoff Watch

Things remain basically the same. The Nets are a game behind the Pistons in seventh and a game ahead of the Heat. The Magic are two-and-a-half back in ninth.

From The Vault

Some non-basketball related sports news, Ichiro played his last game for the Mariners on Thursday morning in Japan, and will retire from baseball. Ichiro is awesome, and I love him. One of the more unique and remarkable athletes we’ve had in the last twenty years. Here are some highlights.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Silver Screen and Roll, our Lakers sister site on SB Nation.