Russell Westbrook’s performance in the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets reignited hopes of the 2017 NBA MVP leading L.A. to success alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Westbrook scored season-high 35 points in Charlotte, shooting 12-for-23 (52.2%) from the field and 3-for-7 (42.9%) from beyond the arc. The guard particularly impressed with how aggressively he attacked the Hornets’ basket while leading L.A. to a 20-point comeback in the third quarter — ending up with 16 points in the paint.
Westbrook’s 30 second-half points were also the most scored by a Laker since Kobe Bryant’s farewell game in 2016.
“He was very good at attacking the basket and making the right reads,” Davis said of Westbrook’s best game of the season. “He was very good at the rim, finishing. And he was just like in kill mode and that’s just how you have to be at all times…”
Since the beginning of the season, the Lakers have been figuring out how to make Westbrook maintain this level of efficiency — especially when he has Davis and James by his side. The 33-year-old guard averages 25.6 points per 36 minutes when the two All-Stars are off the court but just 15.1 when the Big 3 plays together.
Meanwhile, his field goal attempt rate dips from 21.4 per 36 minutes to 13.3 and his free throw attempt rate from 6.5 to 3.7.
Davis suggests Westbrook is still learning how to co-exist in a Big 3, pointing out the guard hasn’t played much in such a configuration during his 14-year career.
“He hasn’t really had where he’s had two guys that he can depend upon, that’s the thing,” Davis said after Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
“Me, him, and Bron can always have a bad night, and the other two can pick the third person up. When he’s playing the way he played in Charlotte, shooting the ball, getting downhill, making the right reads, passing, making his free throws, he adds more pressure on the defense and creates more opportunities for everyone else.
“Just trying to get him to play out of the slot more, that’s where we was effective in Charlotte, he stayed in the slot and was able to attack and make the right reads. When he’s in the middle of the floor, you usually have two guys sitting right there on both of the elbows and now it’s tough for him to navigate, but when he’s in the slot, he’s able to just have one guy and then another guy on the shooter in the corner and it was effective in Charlotte.
“So we tried to do some of that tonight and like I said, he’s just got to stay in attack mode. If he’s attacking, we’re a different team.”
Davis also hopes Westbrook can improve at keeping his cool when the game reaches an emotionally-charged moment.
“He’s got a lot of emotions, and so when he gets into going downhill or someone makes him mad or he doesn’t get a foul call, we try to help him like ‘It’s alright, it’s OK, take a deep breath. Don’t let that carry over to the next play,’” Davis said.
“And we all do it because we want to win so bad, you want to be the guy that helped the team win…”
Westbrook: Lakers can learn from 2-4 road trip
The Lakers ended their six-game road trip with a 2-4 record. But even though they fell three games below the .500 mark before returning to L.A., Westbrook thinks the Purple and Gold had some good moments during the stretch and could build on them ahead of the crucial weeks of the 2021-22 campaign.
“As a group, we can bring some of that energy back home and use it to our advantage and find ways to be able to use it for 48 minutes,” he said after Sunday’s loss in Atlanta. “I thought tonight we did that a good amount of the game but didn’t close the game the way we wanted to.”
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