The Los Angeles Lakers unexpectedly added Russell Westbrook to their injury report on Wednesday ahead of their matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, listing him as questionable for the the second night of their current back-to-back with previously undisclosed “lower back tightness.”
And shortly after head coach Frank Vogel said pregame that Westbrook would be a gametime decision, the team announced that the 33-year-old ironman would miss his first game of the season in their 55th contest:
LeBron and Dwight Howard are both active tonight.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 10, 2022
Russell Westbrook (low back tightness) is out. It’ll be his first missed game this season.
Normally, this would not warrant much hoopla. HOWEVER, this seemingly out-of-the-blue absence comes after Westbrook inflamed a previously only simmering tension with Vogel to inferno levels on Tuesday, after he was once again benched down the stretch of the fourth quarter in the team’s penultimate game before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
So... yeah. Him sitting out with a seemingly out-of-nowhere injury on the final night before teams can make trades is going to lead some to put on their tinfoil hats.
However, for as durable as Westbrook has been, he’s not indestructible. We have to acknowledge that it is at least possible this injury is actually just plain nagging enough to force him out, and not just a James Harden-like, suspicious malady designed to allow him to sit out and stay healthy for a hypothetical trade:
The natural instinct is to be conspiratorial about a new injury designation for Russ 24 hours before the trade deadline, but I'm told his back started acting up during the game last night and flared up again on the flight to PDX. Team still hopes he can play, but that's TBD. https://t.co/BRueoHKkPM— Bill Oram (@billoram) February 9, 2022
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
Still, the timing of all this isn’t going to quiet any whispers and conspiracy theories that this team is done with the Westbrook experiment. But scheme or not, it is very possible that either way in the wake of this — with the deadline tomorrow — Westbrook has played his last game in purple and gold.
The Lakers and Blazers tip off in Portland at 7 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet. They will, once again, have an entirely new starting lineup for this one. Avery Bradley will start in his place, alongside the incumbent LeBron James, Trevor Ariza, Anthony Davis and Malik Monk.
This developing story may be updated with more information. To keep up with all the latest reports before the deadline, check out our 2022 Lakers trade rumors tracker. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.