LOS ANGELES – D’Angelo Russell had 22 points, a career-high 10 assists and seven rebounds in his return to the lineup, helping the Lakers survive a frantic fourth quarter and outlast the Denver Nuggets, 120-116, on Tuesday night at Staples Center.

Nick Young scored a team-high 23 and Lou Williams added 21, but Russell’s return from a three-game absence with a pair of mild leg injuries energized a fluid offense that has frequently sputtered with or without him.

Russell made up for an off shooting night (7 for 17 overall, 2 for 7 from 3-point range) with timely passes, his pick-and-rolls with Ivica Zubac (career-high 17 points) allowing the Lakers to generate consistent offense and shoot 14 for 21 in the fourth quarter against a team that had won seven of nine.

“I haven’t checked what his career stats are but the way he can see the floor I would have assumed he would have had 10 assists at some other point,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, adding that Russell was “fantastic.”

Russell made a pull-up jumper that gave the Lakers a 116-113 lead with 46.8 seconds remaining. He also converted a pair of free throws to ice the game at 118-114 with 12.4 seconds left. But his passing mostly helped the Lakers in other sequences.

“I thought there were multiple guys who really played a part in the style that was fun to watch, fun to coach, fun for the fans,” Walton said, again returning to Russell. “It helps when you hit shots, but the fact he’s playing downhill and attacking and aggressive, I think is what leads us to play like that. When you play that style you get lost in the game and you’re more likely to knock down a couple.”

Young was 9 Venüsbet for 15 from the field, including a 3-pointer that Russell set up to give the Lakers a 106-103 lead with 4:06 remaining. Williams scored 13 of his 21 in the fourth quarter, including a floater that Russell set up for a 112-111 edge with 2:16 left. Zubac, the team’s 19-year-old rookie center, was 8 for 9 from the field with six rebounds and scored eight of his 17 in the fourth quarter.

“He’s obviously made things a lot more interesting in what to do,” Walton said of Zubac. “As of now, it’s a small (sample) size, but like I said, he’s earned the right to be in the rotation full time right now.”

The Lakers (17-34) snapped a three-game losing streak despite getting outscored 40-39 in the wild final period and rectified a seven-point loss to Denver (21-26) earlier this month. They also featured another notable development.

Russell showed a stronger blend of knowing when to look for his shot and when to set up his teammates. In this case, Russell mostly relied on his passing since that became more effective. Walton saw him making that kind of progress before injuring his right knee and right calf on Jan. 20 against Indiana.

“He started playing a lot more aggressively,” Walton said beforehand. “That’s what we need out of him. As long as he’s playing with that type of aggression, the shot will come.”

That shot had not come when he shot 1 for 7 on Jan. 14 against the Clippers or when he went 2 for 9 on Jan. 17 against Denver. Still, the Lakers valued Russell’s return for obvious reasons. The Lakers have gone 14-21 with him in the lineup, while going 3-13 when he sat this season with various left and right knee injuries.

Still, Walton did not chalk up Russell’s absence to the Lakers’ previous struggles.

After all, the Lakers defeated Indiana when Russell left early in the game. They then followed with their most lopsided loss in franchise history, a 49-point defeat to Dallas for reasons that went beyond Russell’s injury.

“Obviously we’re better with D’Angelo. He’s a very talented player. But we don’t sit there and use that as an excuse,” Walton said. “Every team is obviously better when they’re at full strength. But at this league, everyone on every team can play so everybody should be able to fill in.”

But with the Lakers at full strength, they depended on a player to successful guide their offense even when his shot remained a work in progress.

Contact the writer: mmedina@scng.com

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.