L.A. Notes: Russell, LeBron, Lue, Leonard

After getting badly outplayed in the first half of Tuesday’s series opener, the Lakers made enough adjustments to cut the lead to three points in the final minute, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. The Nuggets were able to hold on, but L.A. turned the game around by switching to a bigger lineup. Coach Darvin Ham assigned Rui Hachimura to guard Nikola Jokic, which allowed more freedom for Anthony Davis to roam around and challenge Denver’s shooters.

“You have to switch up matchups at times and you have to switch up coverages,” Ham said. “Gave us a chance to get back into the game.”

While it makes sense to go with that same approach from the start in Game 2, it may not be an easy decision for Ham. Multiple team sources told McMenamin that there’s concern the team could “lose” D’Angelo Russell if he’s moved to the bench after starting every game so far in the playoffs. Russell got off to a terrible start Tuesday, posting a minus-23 in the first half and playing only nine minutes after the intermission. He’s headed to free agency this summer, so Ham’s decision could affect his long-term future with the team.

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • The Lakers‘ offense found success by having LeBron James target Jamal Murray after he got in foul trouble in the second half, McMenamin adds. That will likely be the approach again when the series resumes Thursday night. “We’ll be better,” James promised. “We know we didn’t play up to our capabilities in the first half. … But you know we’ll be better in Game 2, that’s for sure.”
  • Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has two years remaining on his contract, but only one of those is guaranteed, a source tells Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. That explains why Lue’s representatives reportedly met with the team this week to discuss an extension or an entirely new deal. Greif notes that the contract Lue received when he became head coach lined up with the deals given to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who will both be eligible for extensions this summer that could be worth up to $220MM over four years. As Greif points out, the Clippers’ offseason decisions will provide a window into their level of trust in the current foundation of the team.
  • Leonard hasn’t decided whether to have surgery for the meniscus tear he suffered in the playoffs, but Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank believes he’ll be ready for the start of next season with or without the operation, Greif adds.
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