Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell

Getty D’Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts up a shot against Christian Braun #0 of the Denver Nuggets.

The same script played all over again at the start of the grudge playoff rematch between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.

D’Angelo Russell again went cold as the defending champion Nuggets extended their mastery of the Lakers to 9-0 since their Western Conference Final sweep last season with a 114-103 win on Saturday, April 21, at Ball Arena in Denver.

“I mean, I can’t be mad,” Russell told reporters after going 6 of 20 from the field. “I don’t recall the last time I got 20 shots. So for me to get 20 good looks — not 20 ‘good,’ probably five or six of them were questionable. I know what I’m capable of. So honestly, I’m excited. I’m excited about that.”

It was during last year’s Western Conference Finals sweep at the hands of the Nuggets when Russell lost his mojo and his starting job. But Lakers coach Darvin Ham was quick to allay fears that Russell is heading in that direction again after his shooting struggles in Game 1.

“D-Lo is a huge reason why we’re here in the first place,” Ham told reporters. “I’m not going to bail out on my player just because he’s missing the shots that he normally makes. So same shots were going in against New Orleans [in the play-in tournament] and other games that he’s played in to help us get to this point. So it just wasn’t his night.”


D’Angelo Russell: ‘No Love Lost’

Russell entered this season’s playoffs averaging 18.0 points on a career-high 41.5% 3-point shooting and 6.3 assists as he regained his confidence and starting spot under Ham. But on Saturday, the nightmares of last May’s struggles — 6.3 points on 13% 3-point shooting and 3.5 assists — against the Nuggets resurfaced.

The 27-year-old Lakers point guard only finished with 13 points on a horrendous 1 of 9 3-point shooting and 3 assists. Yet despite his horrible shooting, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets by two when he was on the floor.

“I just feel like sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall,” Russell said. “I was locked in on the details and the little things just to try to stay on the floor defensively and things like that. And you look up, your shots aren’t falling. So no love lost. Can’t be upset about that one. Be ready for the next one.”


Lakers Bench Struggled Too

It was not only Russell, who failed to step up.

The Lakers bench, laden with veterans compared to the Nuggets second unit which featured youngsters Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, struggled.

Only Taurean Prince scored with nine points off the bench for the Lakers. Spencer Dinwiddie, Gabe Vincent and Jaxson Hayes did not attempt a shot.

On the other hand, the Nuggets drew 17 points from their bench.

After exploding for 60 points in the first half, the Lakers could only score 18 in the third quarter as the Nuggets took an 89-78 lead and never looked back.

Former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did most of the damage, unloading all of his 12 points in that pivotal quarter.

The Nuggets vaunted starting five combined for 97 points led by Nikola Jokic’s 32 points. The two-time MVP added 12 rebounds and 7 assists to pace Denver.

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