D'Angelo Russell falters late as Lakers drop Game 1

DENVER -- As much as the story of the Los Angeles Lakers' season has been centered on the team looking to make up for its flameout in the Western Conference finals a year ago to chase a championship, there's also been a personal redemption arc for point guard D'Angelo Russell.

However Saturday's 114-103 Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets, where Russell missed 13 of his final 16 shot attempts and scored 13 points, brought to mind some of his past struggles.

"D-Lo is a huge reason why we're here in the first place," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. "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."

After seeing his role reduced throughout the four-game sweep by the Nuggets last year and losing his starting job before the closeout game, Russell re-signed with Los Angeles in the offseason. He survived the trade deadline without being dealt, and his play from early January through the end of the regular season was a bright spot for a Lakers team that came into the first round having won 12 out of 15 games to secure the No. 7 seed.

His overall production has been night and day compared to the 6.3 points on 32% shooting (13% from 3) and 3.5 assists he put up against the Nuggets last May.

But his numbers on Saturday -- 30% shooting (6-for-20) and 11.1% from 3 (1-for-9) with 3 assists -- echoed that nightmare of a series for him.

"I mean, I can't be mad," Russell said. "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."

Excitement would seem counterintuitive considering the Nuggets have now won nine straight games against the Lakers and host Game 2 on Monday at Ball Arena, where they tied for the second-best home record in the league during the regular season, going 33-8.

Yet Russell insisted on taking a pragmatic view.

"I just feel like sometimes the ball just don't fall," he 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."

Russell's shot was far from the only thing that failed the Lakers in the series opener. Denver dominated Los Angeles on the boards 49-40 and scored 18 points off 15 offensive rebounds (the Lakers mustered just eight second-chance points). The Nuggets had half as many turnovers as the Lakers, six to 12, and outscored Los Angeles 14-8 following their opponent's miscues.

Anthony Davis, who led the Lakers with 32 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks but still saw the Nuggets outscore his team by 12 in the 45 minutes he played, said he will encourage Russell to keep his focus on the next opportunity.

"Just get ready for Game 2," Davis said. "We can't do anything about this. But you can do something about Game 2. We know what D-Lo brings to our team. Offensively, he can score, shoot the ball extremely well. Just got to do it."