3. Russell vs. Irving a first for their new teams
D’Angelo Russell joined the Brooklyn Nets via a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers in June 2017. The Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics a little more than two months later.
But despite this being each player’s second season with their respective Atlantic Division team, Monday night will be the first time Russell and Irving have matched up since they were each traded.
And based on their however brief history against one another when Irving was in Cleveland and Russell was in Los Angeles, it could be quite a show.
This will be the third time they have started against one another, with Irving’s Cavaliers beating Russell’s Lakers in their prior two head-to-head matchups as starters.
On March 10, 2016, in L.A., Irving scored 26 points and had nine assists in a 120-108 Cleveland victory. Russell finished that game with 24 points and five dimes.
Their matchup at Staples Center a little more than a year later, March 19, 2017, was bring-your-popcorn worthy.
Irving blew up for 46 points on 15-of-21 shooting, canning 6-of-10 from 3-point range. Russell scored a career-high 40 points on 14-of-22 shooting, hitting 7-of-12 from deep, and kept the Lakers around in what would be a 125-120 win for the Cavaliers.
Irving has the pedigree, to be sure — former No. 1 overall pick, won a ring in 2016, All-NBA selection in 2014-15, Rookie of the Year and in the popularity department, five All-Star selections.
Russell is a former No. 2 overall pick who has yet to accumulate much hardware beyond an All-Rookie nod.
But Russell has been playing well of late, scoring and distributing at a new level. Over his last four appearances, he’s averaging 26.5 points and 7.5 assists per game and on the season is at career-high clips of 18.4 points and 6.4 assists.
He’s dropped at least 20 points in each of his last four games, just the second time in his career he’s put that many together. Russell also had consecutive games of 20 points and 10 assists Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans and Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, a career first.
Irving was removed from Boston’s injury report Sunday afternoon after missing the last two games with inflammation in his left eye, the result of being scratched in the eye in the Celtics’ loss to the San Antonio Spurs on New Year’s Eve.
In 34 games this season, he’s averaging 23.1 points — down from a season ago — and 6.6 assists, a career-high, in 32.3 minutes per game and his shooting has been steady at 48.8 percent overall and 40.8 percent from 3-point range.
So you might want to buckle up for DLo vs. Uncle Drew for the first time since both came to the East Coast.