The Lakers are back in Southern California on Wednesday, after splitting their four-game road trip (2-2). If this happened at the start of the season, that record would have been acceptable, but given their current situation where they’re fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament and had a real chance to be 3-1, it’s not the most ideal mark to end the road trip with.
But if there’s something positive to take away from the past three games, it’s Russell Westbrook’s efficient performances. Westbrook — who finished with 20 points, 11 assists, and 4 rebounds on Monday’s win against the Clevland Cavaliers — has looked far more comfortable and confident on the floor for the last three games.
Maybe it was because Patrick Beverley and the Minnesota Timberwolves were relentlessly bullying him last week, or all the trash-talk he’s heard outside the court from numerous hecklers, but whatever it is, something has riled him up.
In the 10 quarters since being taunted by the Wolves players in a tough loss in Minnesota (including tonight's 1st half vs. the Cavs), here's Russell Westbrook's stats:— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) March 22, 2022
54 points, 21-40 fg's (7-13 3pt fg's), 25 assists, 23 rebounds, 10 turnovers.
In the past three games, Westbrook is shooting 44.4% from behind the 3-point line, and 58.6% from the field while also averaging 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game. Sure, it’s a small sample size, and he probably doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point, but it’s hard not to be happy about how he’s performed lately.
We saw how his improved scoring (at least for now) spaces the floor and how his current productive momentum adds another dynamic to this team.
In the clip above, Westbrook starts off the game with aggressive defense (instead of ball-watching like he does from time to time) by stealing the ball and turning it into two quick easy points thanks to his outlet pass to Austin Reaves.
Yes, it’s a simple play, but it depicts the mentality he entered Monday’s game with, which was admirable considering how horrible the Lakers have performed in the first quarter this season. Here are four of his seven assists in the first half:
Westbrook is just so much better when he makes smart reads and plays at a slower pace, which Frank Vogel alluded to post-game. He actively looked for his teammates all night instead of turning the ball over and forcing shots and passes.
The former MVP finished the first half with an impressive stat line of 10 points, seven assists, three rebounds, just one (!) turnover, and was a +11. But here is arguably the best part about Westbrook’s performance in the past three games — his shooting and a bonus clip of his crucial pass to Wenyen Gabriel for a vital three-point play.
When Russ knocks down shots at a passable rate, the opposing defense has no choice but to cover him, which frees up an unguardable LeBron James even more and the shooters around them.
Westbrook’s recent shooting regression has helped the Lakers win the scoring battle inside the paint in the past two games, and more importantly, it boosts the point guard’s confidence. His swagger and personality were on full display throughout the game (just look at him rock-the-baby in the second clip after a powerful post-up move), which is a big advantage for the Lakers because this is the type of mindset that’s contagious — and something that only Westbrook can provide.
This is the Russell Westbrook the purple and gold need.
And for as long as Russ continues to play with the right pace, knock down shots, make the right reads, turn the ball over less, and play with the same confidence, then he’ll be an asset instead of a liability. Like I said above, that’s probably an unreasonable expectation at this point, but Monday night was a great depiction of what it would need to look like.
Can Westbrook sustain his recent efficient performance? We’ll find out firsthand on Wednesday, when the Lakers play their next game at home, against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Notes and updates
- The Sixers — who are seven-point favorites as of publishing time, according to DraftKings — are coming off a strong victory against the Miami Heat, who they defeated without superstars Joel Embiid and James Harden in the lineup. But when both Harden and Embiid play, they are currently +89 in the 295 minutes they’ve spent together so far this season.
- The purple and gold might also want to watch out for Tobias Harris. The 10-year-veteran averages 18.1 points, 7.2. rebounds and seems to always go off against the Lakers. Another Sixer to watch out for is Tyrese Maxey, who has become arguably Philadelphia’s third-best player.
- Oh, be prepared for a potential Danny Green revenge game on Wednesday, because that’s what he did last season.
New pod with @PaulHudrick discussing the Sixers beating the Heat without Embiid & Harden. Plus, we get into Doc's late-game adjustments and the Eastern Conference standings.— Jas Kang (@jaskang21) March 22, 2022
Then @hmfaigen joins us to preview the Sixers-Lakers matchup. @Liberty_Ballers https://t.co/HMtFOqfTdk
- As for the injury report, Anthony Davis (right mid-foot sprain) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) are out. AD seems to be progressing in his rehab, though, as he was seen running and shooting prior to Monday’s tip-off.
- Talen Horton-Tucker (left knee sprain) and LeBron James (left knee soreness/effusion) are questionable.
- Mason Jones (two-way contract) is with the South Bay Lakers.
The Lakers are back in L.A. after a four-game road trip, which means Wednesday’s game will start at 7 p.m. PT. The contest will be nationally televised on ESPN, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
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