The Los Angeles Lakers sit three games below .500, on the outside looking in at the postseason picture, and are dead last in the Pacific division. And yet, exactly halfway through the 2022-23 season, Russell Westbrook and the Lakers have reason for optimism.
They have won five of their last seven games, including a big victory over the division-leading Sacramento Kings. And due to the crowded nature of the Western Conference, L.A. is only two games back of the No. 6-seeded L.A. Clippers.
Over the past week, many Lakers players have given their take as to why they have been more successful as the season rolls along. More specifically, how the team has managed to compile an 8-6 record since the stress reaction suffered by Anthony Davis against the Denver Nuggets in December.
Westbrook was the latest Laker to give his thoughts on the subject, doing so following a competitive loss to the Nuggets despite missing five regular rotation players including Davis and LeBron James. He spoke about what L.A. has learned playing alongside one another, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“Just understanding how to play. We know we’re at our best, what we need to do. We know what hurts us, and I think we understand that as a team now.”
Westbrook later credited the establishment of a more strict culture for the team’s success with players missing from the lineup.
“It definitely does. If you create a culture, create a way we’re supposed to play, the next guy just kind of gets in line. Or he should, at least. And I think that’s something we’re trying to, and are kind of, establishing. I think that’s why we’re giving ourselves a chance to win games regardless of who’s playing, and I think that’s the best part about it.”
It doesn’t appear as though the Lakers are getting reinforcements back — the injured Davis, Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV — for at least another 1-2 weeks. So the culture Westbrook describes is going to continue to be put to the test.
Next man up has always been a mantra of professional athletes. But the Lakers have had to take that to another level, and have done so successfully in their last 14 games. Westbrook leading the charge on this culture change is not only a positive sign for the team today, but a monumental sign for the months ahead.
Thomas Bryant believes L.A. is trending in right direction
One of the key pieces in the “next man up” culture has been Thomas Bryant, who has been a dominant force on the offensive end since the injury to Davis. And in his mind, the Lakers are absolutely on the right path after the dismal 2-10 start to the season.
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