D'Angelo Russell continues to boost his value for Lakers, scoring 34 in blowout win

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 21: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers & LeBron James.

The ball bounced off the Lakers’ court as LeBron James trailed, a 39-year-old, 21-year veteran casually gliding into a highlight lob fit for an All-Star Game.

Then later Sunday night, as the Lakers kept adding to their lead, James hit the paint and contorted his body around a defender for a left-handed slam — that ended with a backward somersault after he hit the Arena court.

The precursor to both of those plays was a pass from D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers’ maligned point guard who has resided inside trade machines all over the internet over the last month.

Russell orchestrated so many of the Lakers’ big moments in their 134-110 win against the lousy Portland Trail Blazers, his recent heater coinciding with the dawn of trade season.

“Tonight was one of the most complete games I've seen him play since he's been back in the Laker uniform,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “He was great on defense, great with his activity, great on and off the ball offensively. He was huge.”

Sunday, he had 34 points and eight assists, perfectly matching his deliberate pace with urgency and force alongside James and Anthony Davis.

“You've got to be aggressive around these guys,” Russell said. “You know, you complement these guys by being aggressive — not passing to them. Like, that's easy to guard. You're easy to guard when it's like that.”

He’s averaging 27.2 points since returning to the starting lineup five games ago, making nearly 54% of his three-point shots — his best stretch of basketball this season. Sunday, the points came in clusters.

Read more: A season worth saving? The Lakers have to figure it out

“I've always been like that, recognizing my superpower,” Russell said. “Everybody in the league has one. It might be defensive or just a motor but everyone has one. For me, ever since I was a young kid, I always found myself kinda getting hot throughout the game where I might score five, six points right away. Maybe score 10 in a quarter or something like that and score 10, 12 points the last three minutes of the game. It's just my superpower.”

He was far from alone Sunday, the Lakers registering a full game of intentions after walking out on the second half in an embarrassing loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday.

James had 28 points, Austin Reaves had 15 and Davis had 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers.

Read more: Hernández: Does LeBron James still dream of playing with son Bronny? Lakers need to sort that out

Malcolm Brogdon, a player the Lakers have had discussions about in the build to the trade deadline next month, led Portland with 23 points.

Russell would, certainly, be a part of those trade discussions — his contract an almost necessary piece in most moves of significance. Brogdon’s size and defensive pedigree would be appealing, but concerns about his injury history and the $22.5 million left on his contract next season are drawbacks.

But on a night like Sunday, when everything was humming, there wasn’t much thought of upgrading.

And with the game about to be put all the way into the refrigerator, Russell found himself on the break, again, with James on the other wing. With Brogdon defending, Russell faked a behind-the-back pass off the dribble, pushing the ball back to his right hand instead for a layup — giving himself the starring role in the highlight.

“That move in transition was pretty damn good,” James said. “Faking the behind-the-back [pass] to me, wrapped it around to himself and laid it up in transition. That was one of our 35 fast-break points. That was dope.”

It was Russell in his comfort zone, his production and his confidence in perfect alignment as he was in the center of something other than a trade rumor for a change.

“Everything I do is with confidence,” Russell said.

And Sunday, almost everything he did helped the Lakers win.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter on all things Lakers.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.