Just two years after claiming the NBA title, the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen to magnificent depths. Through the ups and more frequent downs of the season, no one has come under the microscope of criticism more often than veteran star Russell Westbrook.
The nine-time All-Star and one-time regular-season MVP was meant to be third fiddle to the powerhouse duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who already led the team to a championship in 2020. For all his accolades and achievements, Westbrook was expected to bring a certain quality of game to an already established team.
Except, the team no longer had an established identity as they were forced to give up their defensive-minded players like Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to afford Westbrook’s lofty contract. As an offense-first guard who has never performed well on defense, Westbrook quickly became the scapegoat for systematic issues on the team, even as injuries to Davis and James plagued the Lakers for a second season in a row.
The onslaught of blame from fans and media snowballed into a prolonged, mentally grueling experience for Westbrook as the Lakers continued to accumulate losing streaks and blowout losses. In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Westbrook explained how his outside influences kept him grounded throughout the strenuous season:
“My family is my foundation,” Westbrook told Yahoo Sports. “My faith is my No. 1 foundation, and I lean on that. And anything outside of that can never waver me because I got so much confidence in those two things that regardless of whatever may come my way, I know I’m able to achieve and show people that regardless of the situation, you can make it out of this. That was really important to me.”
The Lakers guard has often pointed back to his family as a support system throughout his career, and a few times during his season with the Lakers. One of the happiest he’s looked all year was following a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in March, when he gave an interview while wearing a sweatshirt from his four-year-old son, Noah.
It’s his family and faith that Lakers fans can thank for allowing Westbrook to play the most games on the team this season. While James, Davis and Carmelo Anthony have missed a combined 69 games out of 76, Westbrook has only missed one. His role has had to shift throughout the season, as he weaves in and out of playing lead point guard and acting second to James and Davis.
The consistency seems to be paying off, as Westbrook has taken lead in trying to secure the Lakers a spot in the Play-In Tournament. He’s been among the top three scorers for the Lakers in their past 10 games, and he’s been getting his teammates involved more often, averaging eight assists in the past seven games.
With how things have gone, perhaps sitting out some games may have been a benefit to Westbrook, but he explained why he decided not to go that route:
“Because it’s bigger than me, man,” Westbrook told Yahoo Sports. “I’m super blessed to have a platform to be able to help show and help other people. So I’m very prideful in showing people on the outside that regardless of the situation, the circumstances that I may be going through, there are ways to be able to get through it. I strongly believe that if I’m healthy, then I’ll be able to play and go out and compete.”
It’s impossible to guess how the season will end for the Lakers, but Westbrook is one player we can count on being on the court, barring injury.
Lakers’ Trevor Ariza says Play-In Tournament presents ‘opportunity to start over’
As Westbrook and the rest of the Lakers prepare for a crucial stretch of six games, Trevor Ariza is choosing to look at the low place in the standings as a positive, since the Play-In Tournament provides a unique opportunity.
“Any time you have an opportunity to play in the playoffs or to extend your season, I think it’s a plus. Once you get there, it’s 0-0. So whatever you’ve been going through throughout the season, the struggles you’ve been going through, you get an opportunity to start over.”
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