D'Angelo Russell's career-high 52 in Warriors' loss sparks Kobe memories

D'Angelo Russell's career-high 52 in Warriors' loss sparks Kobe memories

MINNESOTA -- In the fourth quarter of a familiar game at the Target Center, D'Angelo Russell found himself at the top of the key with the game on the line. 

Guarded by Andrew Wiggins, Russell drove to the lane and made an off-balance shot, sending the game into overtime, capping a night in which he scored nine of his team's final 11 points in regulation. 

That was four years ago, in a Lakers uniform, with the watchful eye of organizational legend Kobe Bryant on the other side of the court.  

"Kobe was like 'you got that,'" Russell told NBC Sports Bay Area following Friday's 125-119 loss to the Timberwolves. "He was coaching me through it."

The moment gave Russell the belief that he could be an NBA player, turning the midwest arena into fertile ground for another outburst. 

On Friday, it happened, as Russell scored a career-high 52 points, including 35 in the second half, carrying Golden State to the brink of its third win of the season. 

"One of the best performances I've seen with my two eyes in person," Warriors forward Alec Burks admitted. 

Russell's dominance was apparent from tip-off. In his first seven minutes, he scored 12 points, helping Golden State take an early 31-29 lead, making a diverse array of shots. Five minutes into the game, he took a dribble handoff from big man Omari Spellman and made a jump shot, drawing a foul on Wolves guard Treveon Graham in the process.

Two quarters later, Russell made a rainbow jumper over 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng, capping off a 14-point third quarter, showing that he was locked in the zone all night.

"You don't even know what time of the game it is," Russell admitted. "You just get in that zone and look up, you've got 20 and then you look back up and you've got 40."

His most impressive play was reserved for his best friend -- Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. Up 108-106 with 30 seconds to go, he sized up Towns, before draining a 21-footer to give the Warriors a four-point lead, prompting a forceful declaration. 

"He can't guard me. He knows that," Russell boasted. "He's a great dude, great competitor but he knows he can't guard me."

Russell was so confident in the result he waved off guard Alec Burks once he saw who was guarding him, with sound reason. 

"I just thought it was the best matchup," Russell said. "If Alec had Karl on him -- just the mismatch -- I think we would all give him the ball and attack as well. It just happened to be Karl." 

The performance was a welcome sight for Russell. Though he was averaging 19 points per game entering Friday's game, Russell was shooting just 38 percent from the field. Entering Friday, the Warriors were minus-80 when he was on the floor. Worse, in the midst of his season's previous best effort -- a 30 point performance against Phoenix -- he sprained his ankle, missing three games as a result. 

Russell returns as the Warriors are in dire times. In the last 10 days, five players have missed games due to injury, including star guards Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, who will both be re-evaluated in February. Additionally, Draymond Green didn't travel with the team on the current road trip to treat a torn ligament in his left index finger. Of the 10 active players in Friday's loss, none were with the team last season, putting more of an offensive burden on Russell's shoulders. 

Friday's performance comes as Russell is still trying to find his way on a new team. Coming off an All-Star season in which he averaged 21.1 points and seven assists for the Brooklyn Nets, the 23-year-old is forced to carry his team offensively for a Warriors team ravaged by injuries.

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Similar times followed Russell four years ago. Bryant -- like the rest of the battered Lakers roster -- forced the rookie to find his game. Over the next four games, he averaged 19.5 points, five assists, showing -- like Friday evening -- he's more than up for the task. 

"That was probably one of my best games my rookie year," Russell said. "Showed me what I was capable of, honestly."

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

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Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.

Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain


Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain

Add another one to the list.

After leaving Friday night’s loss to the Celtics with a thumb injury, an MRI has confirmed a right thumb sprain for All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell.

Russell will not travel with the team on the upcoming four-game road trip and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Golden State’s already lengthy injury report adds another name, as the team now stands with just nine healthy players as the team embarks for New Orleans on Saturday to kick off the trip.