D’Angelo Russell looked at Taurean Prince in the corner by the Lakers’ bench immediately after perfect ball movement got his teammate a wide-open three.
As the ball swished — and Thursday, it swished a lot — Russell stared at Prince and blew him a two-handed kiss. It was his homage to Prince’s signature celebration, the Lakers as in sync as they’ve been in months.
And again, Russell was the hub, celebrating teammates’ buckets — literally skipping into halftime after a Jarred Vanderbilt layup — while joyfully sniping from behind the three-point-line in a 141-132 win over the Chicago Bulls.
All the kissing, skipping, shooting and scoring from Russell has to make the Lakers look closely at their situation.
Is this the guy they really want to trade?
Russell’s heater, which has run over the last two weeks, has shown the Lakers the best version of the player they traded for last season. His catch-and-shoot game has been in rhythm, his knack for finding momentum plays on display and his joy undeniable.
His name has been involved in most trade rumors of substance, the foremost being the Lakers’ pursuit of Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray.
But with Russell back in the starting lineup next to Austin Reaves, the Lakers have started to play with continuity and comfort for longer, more impactful stretches.
The team has had 27 or more assists in nine consecutive games (they had 35 Thursday). Before that, the Lakers accomplished that just 20 times this season.
But like it’s been all year, nothing is simple.
The good vibes the Lakers created in the first 36 minutes almost disappeared in the final 12, turnovers and fouls taking them out of rhythm and putting the Bulls back into the game.
Luckily for the Lakers, there’s no such thing as a fifth quarter, their lead (once 24 points) combined with clutch buckets from Anthony Davis and LeBron James enough to keep them ahead.
James finished with 25 points after returning from a one-game absence, Davis added 22 and Reaves scored 20. Vanderbilt had 17 off the bench, the Lakers scoring their season high.
The win capped a friendly stretch in the schedule where the Lakers played 11 of 12 games at Crypto.com Arena and only left the state once (to play in Utah). Things will get rough again, with the Lakers starting their annual Grammys trip Saturday at Golden State with stops in Houston, Atlanta, Boston, New York and Charlotte before they’re back home.
The trip also takes them up to the Feb. 8 trade deadline, when all decisions will be final.
And if Russell and the Lakers keep playing like this, figuring out what’s best for the future won’t be as easy as it once seemed.