Wednesday, January 26 2022
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Russell Westbrook is coming off not just his worst game as a Laker on Saturday, but perhaps his worst game as a professional in the NBA. With LeBron James out and Anthony Davis exiting early, the Los Angeles Lakers needed Westbrook to carry them if they were going to have any hope of competing with the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead, he shot 1 of 13 from the field with six turnovers in the 105-90 loss.

So what lesson did Westbrook take from the defeat? “From my perspective, probably just play harder. And that’s strictly just speaking for myself,” Westbrook said, as transcribed by Lakers Nation. “Do a better job just being me consistently and not confining my game or how I play because it just doesn’t work for our team and doesn’t work just in general, doesn’t put me in a position or pace that I need to play at to be a better teammate. So that’s just something I need to make sure I’m consistently doing.”

For most players, this would be fairly sound advice. A little effort can go a long way, but that’s never been Westbrook’s problem. He’s never been accused of giving less than 100 percent on the floor. While more of that energy could be directed toward defense, effort is rarely his issue. In truth, Westbrook could probably stand to confine his game a bit more, but he’s attempting to strike a difficult balance.

There will have to be two versions of Westbrook this season. There’s the one we’re all familiar with: the high-usage lightning bolt of a point guard who controls his offense and racks up triple-doubles. This is the version the Lakers will need when James is out and Westbrook is the lone ball-handling star on the floor. Then there’s the version they’ll need when Westbrook and James play together. This one has to be more restrained, more purposeful in his actions off the ball. This version will still need to play hard, but that energy will need to be directed into different kinds of plays. This Westbrook, in short, can’t go 1 for 13 from the field. 

Westbrook acknowledged that he’s balancing these competing styles. It’s part of moving around as often as he has in recent years. “I’m just trying to figure it out,” he said. “It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done the last 4-5 years, just trying to figure it out, coming to a new team and trying to make the best of the situation being the player that I am.”

Doing so is going to take time. Westbrook is going to need more minutes alongside a healthy James if the two are going to figure out how to play with one another. It can’t be as simple as playing harder, though. It’s going to mean playing smarter. 



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