Atlantic Notes: Russell, Harris, Raptors, Smith

Nets guard D’Angelo Russell has transformed into the kind of leader the Lakers need this season, Michael Scotto of The Athletic writes.

Russell was traded to Brooklyn from Los Angeles in 2017, with president Magic Johnson imploring shortly afterward that the team needs to find a leader for the future. Russell, a first time All-Star this season, led the Nets to a 111-106 victory over the Lakers at Staples Center on Friday, officially eliminating Los Angeles from playoff contention.

“It’s been good,” Russell told YES Network when asked about the season, according to Scotto. “Definitely given me another opportunity to perform at this level. You can’t control your future, but being in Brooklyn so far has given me a great blueprint of what type of player I want to be, and the city is buzzing right now with the success of the sports, so I’ve been enjoying the whole ride.”

Russell is holding per-game averages of 20.7 points, 6.9 assists and 1.2 steals this season, showing the damage he could’ve done in the Lakers’ purple and gold if he wasn’t traded.

“This is where I started,” Russell said. “It’s definitely a place that gave me an opportunity. Not many guys started somewhere and then that was forgotten throughout their career. Chauncey Billups, the Nashes (Steve Nash) of that group. I’m trying to consider myself one of those guys.”

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division today:

  • Brian Lewis of the New York Post examines why Joe Harris has been the X-factor for the Nets. Harris, the winner of the three-point contest over All-Star Weekend, is shooting a career-high 47% from behind-the-arc this season. “That’s my job. That’s what I’m out here to do,” Harris said. “I’m happy to get a couple [3s] early and allowed the rhythm to be there … a little more confidence and taking a couple more aggressive looks. A lot of it is I’m lucky to play with guys like [Russell] and Spencer, [who] do a great job of facilitating for me.”
  • The Raptors are more focused on the postseason itself than what seed they can grab, Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com writes. “It just doesn’t seem to have much relevance to our team, and the situation that our organization is in,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “Yeah, we want a decent seed, but we can’t get caught up in it.” The Raptors have a history of successful regular seasons that led to failed playoff runs, something they hope can be changed this time around with their current group.
  • Zhaire Smith closed out his 2018/19 season on a positive note with the Sixers’ G League team in Delaware, Brian Seltzer of NBA.com writes. Smith, who spent much of the year rehabbing from Jones Fracture surgery, finished with 19 points and 12 points in his final two games of the NBA G League regular season.

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