It is axiomatic in the NBA that when a player goes up against his former team, especially in postseason play, he is more motivated than usual and tends to have a very good game.
Of course, some players, when faced with that situation, see it as just another game — or at least that’s what they will say publicly.
When the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the play-in tournament on Tuesday, three of their players will be facing their former team — D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, all of whom arrived in February’s blockbuster Russell Westbrook trade.
They each seem to be adopting a slightly different attitude about the upcoming contest.
Russell doesn’t seem to care
Russell was arguably the biggest chip that Los Angeles got back in the Westbrook trade. He has played very well since, averaging 17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 48.4 percent overall and 41.4 percent from 3-point range in 17 contests with the Purple and Gold.
In fact, he has been one of the most efficient guards in the entire league this season, especially since joining the Lakers.
He is a much more mature player than he was during his first stint in L.A. during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, and it shows in his response when asked what it means to face the team he spent the first part of this season with on Tuesday.
“I mean, not the fact that they traded me has anything to do with it, but the fact that they’re in the way of what we’re trying to get done,” Russell said. “I mean, that’s all that really matters to me honestly. Trying to prepare mentally now for that because obviously, it’s a big game and it matters. It dictates a lot. So just trying to get that win by any means.”
In contrast to Westbrook, who is still a good player but a flawed and frantic one, Russell has brought a sense of control and smoothness to the Lakers, although he is still very effective in transition.
A look at some advanced stats shows the immense impact he has had on the team, and it will need some strong play from him if it is to make the playoffs and do damage there.
Beasley wants revenge
Since coming to the Lakers, Beasley has played very inconsistently, and he has seen his playing time drop precipitously on occasion in some recent games.
However, he is a dangerous shooter, and even when he isn’t hitting, teams are reluctant to leave him defensively, which opens things up for his teammates.
Beasley used the word “revenge” when asked by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times for his thoughts on the matchup with Minnesota.
Malik Beasley on the Wolves matchup: “Excited to play them, get our revenge back — me, Vando, and DLo — do what we gotta do to win a championship.”
As for if he’s watched the Wolves recently? “I don’t care about them. I care about what we got going on.” https://t.co/AbjZehY5Mz
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) April 9, 2023
It is notable that Beasley also used the word “championship,” as it could be a window into the mindset of this Lakers team and how high it is setting the bar for itself moving forward. It’s a sentiment its head coach, Darvin Ham, echoed recently.
Vanderbilt is simply “excited”
While Vanderbilt, like Beasley, said he’s excited to play the Timberwolves, he didn’t sound like he wanted any type of revenge on his former team.
He said he has no ill feelings towards his former teammates while insisting he’s focused on the opportunity that sits in front of him and his team.
“I’m excited,” said Vanderbilt. “Obviously I’ve got some history there, spent my last two, three years there. I’ve got a lot of love and respect for those guys, but this is a golden opportunity for me and I’m super excited for it.”
While Russell played the first half of this season with the Timberwolves, Beasley and Vanderbilt were with the Utah Jazz during that time. All three were teammates last season when Minnesota won its play-in game over the Los Angeles Clippers, then competed hard in a six-game loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.
If the Lakers get past Minnesota on Tuesday, they will face that same Memphis squad in the first round of this year’s playoffs.
Source: Yahoo Sports