Regardless of whether their play indicates it or not, the Lakers are very aware of the situation they find themselves in when it comes to the playoff standings. After Sunday’s embarrassment against the Pelicans, the Lakers are squarely in the ninth seed in the Western Conference, 2.5 removed from the Pelicans below them and 3.5 games behind the Clippers above them.
It’s a precarious situation, to say the least, and one only growing more and more perilous as the Lakers continue to lose games while the teams around them continue winning. Head coach Frank Vogel called it a long shot for the team to move up and out of the play-in games before the two losses by the Lakers over the weekend.
Now, the only exiting of the play-in game that feels realistic is the Lakers falling out of the bottom, not escaping through the top. As grim as the position is, it’s one that at least one Lakers is both familiar with and has succeeded in, that being Russell Westbrook.
In his lone campaign in Washington, Westbrook and the Wizards went from contenders for the top pick in the NBA draft to the eighth seed in the playoffs via the play-in game. In that sense, Westbrook knows what it takes to make a late-season push.
After practice last week, Westbrook spoke about the Lakers needing to “take it one day at a time” and why he doesn’t pay attention to the standings.
“I just don’t. It doesn’t really mean much,” Westbrook said. “I just have a different perspective. Last year, I was 17 or 18-33 at some point when I was playing with the Wizards, and I said it didn’t mean s--- to me at the time, locked in, every day, one day at a time, and next thing you know you look up and you’re in a different position. To me, nothing different with us. We’re in a position to be in the play-in game... Our job now is to make sure we take one day at a time and that’s it.
“Regardless of what position we’re in, we’ve got to beat whoever to get wherever we need to get to. So it don’t matter when you play them. If we play them early, cool. If we play them later, that’s cool too. So to me it really doesn’t matter. Just making sure that our minds are in the right place and we’ve got our energy and effort moving in the right direction.”
The message wasn’t any different on Sunday after the Lakers loss as he spoke to the media about needing to get things right over the remainder of the season.
“Like I keep reiterating, the record at this point, we’re not going to close the gap in one night,” Westbrook said. “As the season goes on, we’ve got 20 or so games left. We have to make sure we find out a way to know how we best play…We just have to lock in and focus on things that are important.”
While his message is all well and good, the old adage of actions speaking louder than words applies here with Westbrook and the Lakers. While it may be the correct stance in the long run to take things one day at a time, that time is dwindling and the Lakers are trending in the wrong direction.
Particularly when it comes to Westbrook, who has seven turnovers to two assists over the last two games, fans are long past the point of words. After the team’s wholly lackadaisical effort on Sunday, hearing that the team is taking things one day at a time is probably not the message they care to hear.
Even if it is the right mindset to have, the Lakers need to start doing the right things instead of saying the right things.