There’s a saying that longtime followers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) know only too well: Shooters shoot. Their confidence fuels them to believe their next attempt will hit nothing but net regardless of how well — or, as the case may be, atrociously — they did beforehand. And so they chuck and chuck and chuck, feeling that if they don’t, that if they give in to indecision, they will do their teams a disservice and undermine the reason they’re in the court in the first place.

Well, that’s exactly what D’Angelo Russell did in the Lakers’ loss to the Nuggets yesterday. He stayed aggressive from the get-go and throughout the match, his percentages notwithstanding. He was the first in purple and gold to let it fly, getting a miss from 29 feet 42 seconds into the set-to. He then made his next three shots — all inside the arc — before bookending the first quarter with another miss from three-point territory. In short, he kept doing what he had been in the regular season: focus on the rim and try to get the ball through the hoop at the slightest opportunity.

Which is all well and good — until, of course, Russell gets to miss more (make that much more) than he makes. Given his defensive woes, he’s on the court primarily to put up points on the board. And when he doesn’t, he’s all but useless. Against the Nuggets yesterday, he posted modest numbers: 13, three, three, and two in 41 minutes on the court. Unfortunately, he got them off an anemic six-of-20 shooting clip; more tellingly, he was an atrocious one of nine from three-point range. Only Anthony Davis played more and shot more.

Little wonder, then, that the contest had a familiar refrain. The Nuggets once again got the win when the battlesmoke cleared, extending their mastery over the Lakers to a whopping nine games. It’s beyond laughable at this point, with the latter continuing to make the same mistakes and succumbing to the same strategies. The defending champions aren’t trotting out any new sets; they’re just riding on the old reliables over and over again to produce desirable outcomes. One side hasn’t learned from the past, and the other just leans on it.

The irony is that the Lakers absolutely need Russell to be at his best in order to upend the Nuggets. It’s why head coach Darvin Han gave him a long leash yesterday, and why he kept getting the ball in the crunch. Simply put, LeBron James and Davis need help, and he’s expected to be at the forefront along with Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. And when they have their faces on milk cartons, there’s little hope for a different outcome. The reigning titleholders are simply too good, and too connected, to be overcome by top-heavy tactics.

True, the Lakers aren’t out of it yet. Technically, all the Nuggets managed to do is protect homecourt advantage. Then again, they have no chance of advancing at all if they don’t even get to claim one win early on in the series. Tomorrow, they need to come up with something — anything, really — to change their fate, and Russell, for better or worse, will have to figure heavily in their plans.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.