Frank Vogel Says Russell Westbrook Remains Part Of Lakers’ Default Closing Lineup But Sometimes ‘Game Can Tell You Otherwise’
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The 131-116 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks further brought the Los Angeles Lakers’ Big 3 experiment into question following Russell Westbrook’s 10-point performance on Tuesday.

Westbrook found himself benched in the second game in a row, as head coach Frank Vogel took the 33-year-guard off the court late in the third quarter and never put him back in play. The 2017 NBA MVP’s absence coincided with L.A.’s fourth-quarter push that nearly the Bucks’ 30-point down to single digits.

Westbrook is putting up 10.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per night over the last four games, shooting 27.5% from the field and 15.4% from beyond the arc.

Vogel said “it’s tough to say” what’s the reason behind the guard’s slump. However, he pointed out Westbrook has needed to make plenty of adjustments due to LeBron James and Anthony Davis sliding in and out of the rotation.

“He wasn’t that bad, the group that was making a run, we just left them in there in the fourth aside from bringing Bron back,” the head coach said of Westbrook’s performance. “[Westbrook] had a tough night the other night, he had a tough night shooting the ball tonight but I thought he was competing and the lineups have changed.

“He’s playing without AD one time on the road, without AD and Bron, without Bron and he’s got the ball a lot more, it’s easier to get in a rhythm, and that’s typically how he’s played. But when all those three guys are out there at the same time, it’s different. There’s less touches and everybody is sharing it, so maybe it’s tougher to get into a rhythm. But that’s one of the things we’re working through.”

Vogel said Westbrook remains part of the Lakers’ closing lineup — unless in-game circumstances require a change of plans.

“Yeah, for sure, and he is,” he said. “That’s always the plan, and the game can tell you otherwise, if other guys are gonna be in there. The game tells you that.”

James acknowledged Westbrook’s struggles in the last couple of weeks. But the four-time NBA champion hopes that with enough effort, the Lakers’ Big 3 can still figure out how to make things work.

“Listen, I want to help AD. I want to help Russ. AD want to help me help Russ and Russ wants to help us,” James said.

“Obviously, lately, Russ hasn’t felt like he’s had an opportunity or with opportunities he’s been given, he hasn’t helped as much as he would like. We haven’t done a great job of helping him, but at the end of the day, it’s always kind of started with myself and AD.

“Russ joined the team as well, so we just had a little moment right there. Understanding that there’s still a lot of basketball to be played. There’s still an opportunity for us to make a mark on this season, but it’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take a lot, but nothing is worth having if it’s not worth working for. We look forward to it.”

Westbrook feels he’s ‘earned right’ to close games

After Westbrook spent the overtime of last week’s victory over the New York Knicks on the bench, he tried to downplay his absence in the unit that snatched the win for the Lakers.

The guard spoke with much more candor after he missed the last 14 minutes of play in the loss to the Bucks — saying he feels like he deserves to be part of the closing units.

“I shouldn’t have to hit any benchmark, to be honest,” Westbrook said. “I put a lot of work. I’ve got a lot of respect in this game. I don’t have to hit a benchmark. I shouldn’t have to. I’ve earned the right to be in closing lineups. Numbers will tell you.”

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