After missing his first game of the season due to lower back tightness last Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, Russell Westbrook is once again listed as questionable for tomorrow’s road game against the Golden State Warriors.
While it’s ironic that Westbrook could potentially miss two straight games during and right after the trade deadline, where he was reportedly being shipped around, there’s actual evidence that the nine time All-Star did, in fact, injure his back.
The Athletic’s Bill Oram mentioned that Westbrook’s back was already flaring up on the way to Portland. He was also noticeably grimacing and holding his back in the middle of a game a week ago vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.
In fairness to Russ, this could be the play he hurt his lower back during the Clippers game last week. Gets hit pretty good on the screen and immediately is grabbing his back.— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) February 9, 2022
(h/t @donny_mchenry, @CooperHalpern) pic.twitter.com/yOEs2QfjDc
But when Westbrook was asked for the first time about his sore back after Friday’s practice in Golden State, the point guard subtly blamed his back injury on the lack of consistent minutes he was seeing on the floor. According to the L.A. native, he felt discomfort in his back last Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks due to sitting down for long stretches.
“Nah, it comes and goes,” Westbrook said when asked if this was a new injury. “I’m not accustomed to sitting down for long stretches and getting up and then moving quickly. It kind of stiffened up a little bit, and then kind of moving into the next night, I woke up, same thing, just kind of real (stiff).
“For me that’s triggered from some other places on my body,” Westbrook continued. “My hips and different things, so I want to make sure that I’m doing all the proper things and making sure I can stay healthy and be my best for my teammates when I’m on the floor.”
Westbrook, who is averaging 34.6 minutes a game on a team that’s played the most minutes in the NBA (48.8), is seeing the fewest minutes he’s played in the past four years. This does not come off as a surprise, given that him being benched particularly in fourth quarters dominated headlines prior to the trade deadline.
Due to his inconsistent production, the point guard has seen his time on the court decrease from 35.7 minutes to start the season to 31.6 minutes in his last 15 games. He only played for 26:06 and 29:01 minutes in the last two games, which has only happened for the 70th and 71st time in his nine-year storied career.
So while there is factual basis to the claim that Westbrook is sitting for longer — and it’s a medically sound idea that sitting for longer could make one’s back stiffen up — if it wasn’t already clear, Westbrook voluntarily taking this public is just the latest indication he isn’t very happy about being benched or his current playing time. And he feels his back injury has something to do with it. His continuing passive-aggressive feud with Frank Vogel is also something to look out for in the next 25 games of the regular season.
Vogel has already made it clear that he’s only “playing the guys that he thinks are going to win the game” especially in fourth quarters. Westbrook, who is averaging 18.3 points (his lowest since his sophomore year), 7.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game, needs to play better (at least in Vogel’s standards) if he wants to see more playing time — and perhaps improve his injury, if his minutes really have something to do with his tightened back.
The biggest question moving forward is if Westbrook and Vogel can improve their relationship and still get the best out of each other. Whether that’s going to happen or not is uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: The Lakers’ situation will only get more ugly if their feud continues.