D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves Final Series As Los Angeles Lakers?

5 min readApr 21, 2024

After losing a 9th straight game and critical 3-point battle to the Denver Nuggets, D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves suddenly find themselves facing their possible final series as members of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Monday night’s critical Game 2 in Denver now looms as the last legitimate opportunity for Russell and Reaves to show Lakers’ ownership, front office, and coaching staff that they’re the backcourt of the future for this team.
After again being outscored from deep by the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves on the brink of falling behind 2–0 and potentially suffering their second straight humiliating playoff sweep.

Unless Russell and Reaves can bounce back Monday and help the Lakers even their first round series with the Nuggets at 1 game each, it’s highly unlikely either player would still be wearing purple and gold next year.
That means Monday night’s Game 2 in Denver is a ‘must win’ game that will not only determine who likely wins this series but could also have major ramifications on what the Los Angeles Lakers decide to do this summer.

Getting swept again by the Nuggets would likely result in the Lakers finally accepting they could not win a championship with a D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves backcourt and moving on from both players this summer.
Bouncing back with a big win to tie the series on Monday, however, could completely change the dynamic of the Lakers’ playoffs and set them up for what could be a dramatic 6-game first round triumph over the Nuggets.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened last night and what the Lakers need to change in Game 2 on Monday to even up the series and get back on track to upsetting the world champion Nuggets in 6-game series.

What Lakers Hoped Would Happen in Game 1?

Since February 1, the Los Angeles Lakers have transformed their formula for winning games by shooting a dramatically higher percentage on 3-point shots, reducing their reliance on points in the paint and made free throws.

As you can see from the above chart, the Lakers’ formula from the start of the season to the end of January has essentially been the same as it has been since the Lakers signed LeBron James as a free agent 4 years ago.
The Lakers lose close to 10 points per game from their 3-point shooting differential but are able to make up most of that difference by outscoring opponents via made free throws and points in the point per game.

Starting back in February, when Darvin Ham reinstated D’Angelo Russell as the team’s starting point guard, the Lakers’ 3-point shooting has taken off and L.A. has shot a torrid 39.3% from deep, second best in the league.
The result has been a Lakers team that went 23–10 (5th best in league) with an offensive rating of 118.4 (3rd best in the league), a defensive rating of 114.7 (21st in the league), and a net rating of 3.7 (12th in the league).

The Lakers thought improved 3-point shooting would fix their problem with the Nuggets in last season’s conference finals where Denver outscored them on threes by 15 points per game in a series lost by 6 points per game.
Unfortunately, the Lakers laid an egg and shot a miserable 27.6% on just 29 attempts while the Nuggets shot 35.7% on 42 attempts, leading to a huge negative 21-point 3-point shooting differential in a game lost by 11 points.

Lakers need to stay positive and understand this is a 7-game series and all the Nuggets did was hold home court in Game 1. Lakers improved 3-ball game is legitimate. All they need to do is to hit their shots Monday night.

What Has To Happen In Game 2 For Lakers To Win?

The Los Angeles Lakers must take and make more 3-point shots Monday night than they did last night if they want to have a realistic chance at surviving and winning this first round series against the Denver Nuggets.

The above chart shows the Lakers individual player 3-point stats since February 1st. L.A. has 3 starters shooting over 40% and 4 starters shooting better than the 36% league average. Only Anthony Davis is below 37%.
The Lakers backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves are the team’s two highest volume 3-point shooters, averaging 8.6 and 5.5 attempted threes per game, followed by LeBron James 4.8 attempted threes per game.

While James shot well from deep hitting 3 of 5, Russell was a dreadful 1 of 9, Reaves 2 of 6, Hachimura 2 of 4, Davis 0 of 4, and Prince 1 of 3. As a team, the Lakers only took 29 threes while making just 8 for a miserable 27.6%.
The poor 3-point shooting hurt the Lakers’ spacing and made it difficult for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to attack the paint, resulting in L.A. actually losing the points-in-the-paint battle by 10 points to the Nuggets.

The Lakers will need to hit their 3-point shots Monday night if they hope to have a realistic chance to even the series at 1 game each. They don’t need to shoot 40% but they at least need to make enough threes to win the game.
Last night, the Lakers lost the game by 11 points. Had they shot 12 for 29 instead of 8 for 29, they would have won the game. The reality is the Lakers need to take and make more threes if they want to win on Monday night.

The Lakers made the dramatic improvement in 3-point shooting they needed. Now they just need to go out there and shoot the ball the way they’ve done the last couple of months. Do that and they’ll beat Denver.

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Lakers fanatic since 1971 when team traded for Wilt Chamberlain. Founder, editor, and publisher of Lakerholics.com, a community for smart informed Lakers fans.