LOS ANGELES – Nets fans have a new mantra. Maybe you’ve seen it with a hashtag on Twitter. Maybe you’ve heard the Brooklyn Brigade chant it at home games: “Thank you, Magic.”
It’s an expression of heartfelt appreciation, albeit tinged with sly sarcasm, to Lakers chief of basketball operations Magic Johnson for gifting the Nets with point guard D’Angelo Russell two years ago in a trade for Brook Lopez. Johnson was ready to move on to draft pick Lonzo Ball, and Russell was ready to move on to a fresh start.
Now, Russell returns Friday night to Staples Center as an All-Star leading an Eastern Conference playoff contender against his former Lakers team, and he’s coming off a career-high 44-point effort at Sacramento, where he scored 27 fourth-quarter points to lead an historic comeback from 25 points down in the final period. Russell downplays any so-called revenge motive against the Lakers, but he’s in an especially good place now because there is no denying his achievements.
“I’ve been on the worst side of the tilt,” Russell said. “So, to be on this side where we’re having a little bit of success, I’ve seen both narratives…You go into a situation like that, and everybody is obviously speaking on my success, individual accolades, or [starting] here.
“I’ve come here last year, and we were in a different situation. We weren’t in a playoff push or trying to win games like we are now. The pressure wasn’t as high. So, with all the pressure that they’re building for me coming back, it’s good. It takes the pressure off our team because we’re really worried about coming and trying to get a win. . . . That’s our business approach.”
In other words, the Nets’ playoff push takes precedence over Russell’s past with the Lakers or where they might have been now if they could pair Russell with LeBron James. When Russell spoke after practice on Thursday, the Nets were still giddy from their shocking comeback against the Kings, knowing they need to capitalize on it with a win over the Lakers to strengthen their playoff bid.
“I think it picks up your energy just around the team, around the organization as well,” Russell said of the uplifting win. “You could easily lose that one, and then say we lose (Friday), and snowball effect just like that. The season’s too valuable right now to have any lapses like that, so us winning that one was a big one, and just to go get the next one.
“I tell you guys honestly from my experience that’s the craziest game I’ve ever been in, and just to have the support we had as a whole I thought was great.”
Notes & quotes: Shabazz Napier returns from illness, but Allen Crabbe (right knee soreness) remains out.