Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell feasts with 39-point game

Russell's big night helps Lakers end losing skid (1:21)

D'Angelo Russell scores 39 points, the most by a Lakers' rookie in a regular season game, en route to helping Los Angeles break an eight-game losing streak with a 107-101 victory over Brooklyn. (1:21)

LOS ANGELES -- Before tipoff on Tuesday, Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard D'Angelo Russell received a text message from his father, which, Russell later said, was unusual -- something that used to happen all the time, but not so much anymore.

"Are you hungry?" his father asked.

"Yeah," Russell replied.

"Eat," his father said.

And so, in a 107-101 win over the Brooklyn Nets, Russell feasted, scoring a career-high 39 points, the most for any NBA rookie this season and the most for any Lakers rookie since the franchise moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1960-61 season.

Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, scored the most points for a Lakers rookie since Elgin Baylor dropped 39 points on March 11, 1959, back when the Lakers called Minneapolis home.

But since the team uprooted and settled in L.A., the highest-scoring effort by a Lakers rookie belonged to Jerry West, who scored 38 points on Feb. 26, 1961.

Then came Tuesday, when Russell joined those legends in the history books and showcased the "superstar" potential that the Lakers touted when they drafted him.

"Just to be in the category with those guys is an honor," said Russell, who hit 14 of 21 shots from the floor and made a career-high eight 3-pointers, becoming the second rookie in NBA history to hit that many shots from beyond the arc. (The other: Roddy Beaubois, who hit nine 3-pointers on March 27, 2010.)

Russell, a former Ohio State standout, also added six rebounds and three assists as he helped the Lakers snap an eight-game losing streak and improve to 12-49.

The 20-year-old's dazzling performance almost felt foreshadowed after he boldly declared, "The world hasn't seen anything yet" in January following a 27-point outing in a loss to the Kings in Sacramento.

Russell left that game late with a sprained ankle, but he brimmed with confidence. He smiled and vowed that he could put up bigger numbers and take over games.

Yet there were times when, quite literally, his own coach benched him for doing just that -- trying to take over.

Indeed, Lakers coach Byron Scott has kept Russell on a short leash virtually all season, whether sitting him out fourth quarters or pulling him from close games.

Scott even demoted Russell to the bench after starting him the first 20 games. It wasn't until recently -- the past five games -- that Russell became a starter again.

"From my standpoint, what you've got to do as a player is you've got to get me to trust you," Scott explained. "I think [as] we've gone on, month by month, I've gained more trust in him to give him a much longer leash. I didn't think that was going to be a problem in the first place.

"It always takes rookies some time. For him, it took a couple months, but each month I was happier because he was getting better each month. I wouldn't say I've loosened up. I've been probably even more demanding of him, but I've also given him more freedom, as well."

Russell feels much more at ease. If he was hesitant earlier in the season, cautious because any mistake might lead to him getting yanked from the game, he is now playing without worry, knowing he can make a mistake and still remain on the court.

But during those early struggles, Scott said Russell responded as most 19-year-olds would: "Which means at times he probably doubted himself, doubted us, doubted the system. He was trying to figure it out, figure his way, like most young people."

Russell attributed any frustration he felt then to simply being a rookie.

"Blame it on that -- just a rookie mistake," Russell said. "Something I can learn from. Whenever you get that opportunity, it can be so small, and you've got to really take advantage of it from those guys dying to be in that position. I'm here, so I don't want to look back from this point."

Russell has scored at least 22 points in each of his past three games, but those performances were nothing compared to the way he torched the Nets.

"He was hot," said second-year Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson, who had 16 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. "He was cooking."

Second-year Lakers forward Julius Randle agreed.

"He was amazing," said Randle, who added 14 points and 13 rebounds in Tuesday's contest.

In fact, though Russell has often watched from the sidelines during crunch time, it was during those crucial minutes when he sank some of his biggest shots against Brooklyn.

"I wouldn't say I've loosened up. I've been probably even more demanding of him, but I've also given him more freedom, as well." Byron Scott on D'Angelo Russell

He drilled two 3-pointers in the final 53.2 seconds to seal the Lakers' win, and after his final dagger from long range, a 27-foot bomb at the top of the key with 30.8 seconds left, Russell pointed to his left forearm and fittingly mouthed, "Ice in my veins!"

"To be honest, I was running out of celebrations," he said later, "and I thought of one and that was the first thing that came to my mind."

As cliché as it may sound, Russell's big night reminded him about the value of work.

"Everybody says that and it kind of gets old: Hard work pays off," he said. "But I'm kind of seeing it through my own eyes, and watching film and seeing what I could've done; and then I get the opportunity right away and it happened, and I fix what I didn't do and I see myself doing it. I can feel it and I can see myself getting better."

Russell and Scott credited the team's new offensive set that was installed last week -- an up-tempo scheme designed for more ball movement and less isolation.

"I like it. I really like it," Russell said. "It's cool. It's just fast-paced, and it forces you to read and react."

The team will run that set for the rest of the season to build cohesiveness among the team's young players while also helping them prepare for life beyond Kobe Bryant.

In these remaining games, every big night from Russell and the team's other promising youths gives the Lakers hope that brighter days are ahead, and such games could help lure free agents to L.A.

And it seems almost certain that more of those performances are ahead for Russell.

When asked what Tuesday's effort meant to him, Russell looked around the press conference room, a few doors down from the team's locker room.

"I get the opportunity to come here," he said, sitting for the first time behind the table where Bryant usually sits after games. "I've never been up here. I didn't even know this existed. Now I know I've got something to really try to play for."

Russell smiled. He gave credit to the team's coaches who helped develop him. He gave credit to his teammates who constantly tried to feed him on Tuesday night.

"A lot of my teammates were doing that for me," Russell said. "It was cool."

He was cool. He was hungry. And he ate.