LOS ANGELES – The Heat began its three-game West Coast trip with the league’s eighth-best record, on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth and without the off-court controversy that has descended on the other proud franchise that it squared off against late Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Lakers, stumbling through a 15-59 season after winning 27 and 21 games the previous two, spent Wednesday trying to diffuse a mushrooming controversy stemming from a leaked video in which rookie guard D’Angelo Russell filmed teammate Nick Young while Russell was asking questions about women other than Young’s fiancée, Iggy Azalea.
Young did not know he was being taped.
In the video --- which was filmed two months ago and recently released by a celebrity gossip web site --- Young appeared to acknowledge meeting another woman at a club.
“You was 30 and she was 19?” Russell asked Young in an apparent reference to the age difference between Young and the woman.
Asked before Wednesday’s game whether he believes he put Young’s marriage in jeopardy, Russell said: “Honestly, I do.”
Russell said he never sent the tape to anybody and has no “clue” how a gossip site obtained it.
“I feel as sick as possible,” Russell said. “I wish I could make things better right away but I can’t. This got in the wrong hands. It wasn’t a prank. It wasn’t for anybody to see. The damage is done. The best thing you can do is own up to it.”
Russell said he apologized to Young but “I don’t know if it was accepted.”
Russell said he typically “jokes” around with teammates, and says “thing you don’t really repeat. It was an incident of playing too much gone wrong. Only time can make this really go away. If I’ve lost anybody’s trust, I’m gonna work my tail off to get it back.”
Whereas Russell took questions from reporters, Young did not. Young, appearing at the podium without Russell, spoke briefly, saying: “I think it’s best me and D’Angelo handle our situation outside the media. We have to work on it.”
ESPN reported that no Lakers player would sit at Russell’s table during a recent breakfast, and teammate Lou Williams stood up and walked away when Russell sat down next to him in the locker-room.
“It's bad," one Lakers source told ESPN.com. "It's about as bad as it can get. There were trust issues already. Now there's no trust."
Lakers coach Byron Scott grew irritated when asked about the matter Wednesday morning. “It’s an internal problem; we’ll handle it from in-house,” Scott said, threatening to end his press briefing if questions on the topic persisted.
On Wednesday evening, 90 minutes before tipoff, he answered questions more calmly, admitting he is "obviously" concerned about whether the incident will affect on-court chemistry. "We'll see if it festers during the game," Scott said, adding that he "played with players I didn't like as teammates."
Then Scott pleaded with reporters: "Do we want to talk about Miami at all?" That was met with silence from more than 50 reporters crowded into the Lakers' interview room.
This wasn’t the Lakers’ only embarrassing incident this month. Last week, a woman accused Young and Lakers teammate Jordan Clarkson of harassing her and her 68-year-old mother at a Hollywood intersection, but a Lakers investigation was inconclusive.
The Lakers, who entered Wednesday coming off the most lopsided loss in their history (a 123-75 drubbing by Utah), will have $66 million in cap space this summer and might target Heat center Hassan Whiteside, among others.
• The Heat says Justise Winslow will play tonight. He injured his knee in Monday's game against Brooklyn.
• With Atlanta losing tonight, the Heat can move into No. 3 in the East with a win tonight.
• According to the Heat's calculations, Miami needs some combination of two wins or two losses by Washington and Chicago to clinch a playoff spot.
Please see the last post for more Heat pre-game notes, plus Dolphins items from today.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz