The Los Angeles Lakers secured a much-needed win over the New York Knicks in overtime on Saturday night. While the hope remains that L.A. can get back on track with each tough victory, Saturday’s win came with the added drama of head coach Frank Vogel benching Russell Westbrook for the entirety of the overtime period.
Westbrook had played arguably his worst game of the season in regulation. In 29 minutes, he had scored just five points on 1-for-10 shooting and 3-for-7 from the free-throw line. He added just four rebounds and six assists in what was an ugly performance.
Vogel instead opted for Talen Horton-Tucker, who did not light up the stat sheet, but was a plus-22 in his 24 minutes.
Benching Westbrook is a decision that — while justified — will always come with questions. Vogel explained his decision following the win. “Obviously, Russ was having a tough night on both sides of the ball and Bron was really going. I knew the ball was going to be in Bron’s hands and I felt like we were going to get more from a defensive perspective off-ball action with Talen [Horton-Tucker].
“You make tough decisions in the spirit of whatever the team needs to win the game.”
The Lakers head coach detailed what he hopes Westbrook will do in response to his second late-game benching of the season.
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with any player if someone is not playing well enough and they don’t get to finish the game or they don’t get to close the game out. There’s nothing wrong with giving somebody else you feel is going to give you a better chance given them that opportunity. Hopefully, the response is that player plays better. That’s the hope.”
L.A. absolutely hopes to see improvement from Westbrook immediately. While there have been problems this season that go beyond Westbrook, much of it can be traced back to the decision to take on Westbrook’s $44 million salary, hamstringing any flexibility the Lakers had to build out a roster.
Now, with the trade deadline looming, the Lakers appear determined to stick it out with the dynamic but controversial point guard. LeBron James and Anthony Davis will have to put in serious work to make the Lakers a contender, even if it means Westbrook gets benched in crunch time.
Vogel will also have to continue making tough decisions, as it’s not clear the Lakers would have won against the Knicks had Westbrook played in overtime.
James, Davis encourage Westbrook
The Lakers star duo have shown no signs of giving up on their third co-star in Westbrook. Following the tough outing against the Knicks, both James and Davis threw their support behind the L.A. point guard.
“I just told him to text me later. I told him to keep going and stop second-guessing himself during the game,” James said. “There was a couple times where he had good looks and second-guessed himself, couple times where he had some drives and second-guessed himself.”
And Davis added: “There were some shots tonight that he usually takes in rhythm and he kind of passed up or hesitated. “And me and LB were just trying to tell him, we don’t care if you miss every one, just play. Shoot your rhythm shots, don’t hesitate. Obviously it’s easier said than done just because when you’re in it, obviously you don’t want to be missing shots. He doesn’t try to miss and a lot of shots he takes are shots that he can make. But he just got to stay out of his own head.”
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