SAN FRANCISCO — Russell Westbrook said he “absolutely” believes Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham’s decision to bring him off the bench in Los Angeles’ preseason finale could have caused the hamstring strain he suffered that night.
“I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years in a row,” Westbrook said after the Lakers lost 123-109 to the Golden State Warriors in their regular season opener on Tuesday night. “Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do before the game. To be honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. … It’s something I just wasn’t used to.”
Westbrook was back in the starting lineup against the Warriors – playing with the first unit for the 1,005th time in 1,022 career games – after being restricted in the days leading up to it due to his hamstring injury.
He played just five minutes in Friday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings. He hinted at being able to play more but choosing not to because “I wasn’t going to take the risk in a pre-season game”.
Westbrook played 31 minutes against Golden State and finished with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, 11 rebounds, three assists, one steal and four turnovers. His plus-minus rating of minus-six was better than LeBron James (-10) and Anthony Davis (-21).
Ham said he wanted Westbrook’s approach to competition to shake up his team from the first tip.
“You want to start the game on the right foot in terms of energy and being in attack mode, and nobody is better than him,” said Ham, who spoke to reporters before Westbrook followed the game. “I mean, that’s what we have, and we’ve hurt some key guys. It’s game 1, give them a chance to come out and compete at the highest level. I thought he was solid “I thought he was solid. A few possessions. I wish I could come back, but overall I think he was solid.”
Prior to the contest, Ham said he wanted to “establish” a cohesive starting unit.
“We don’t want to be on those teams,” he said, “where the teams swing depending on which opponent starts.”
However, when asked if that meant he would stick with his opening night starters for a while, Ham wouldn’t commit.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’m an everyday guy.”
Davis said after the game that Westbrook’s bench role against the Kings was just an experiment.
“I don’t think he was ever out of [the starting group]”, Davis said. “I think it was a look [at a different rotation] to Bag.”
It was only the 22nd regular season game that Davis, Westbrook and James have played together since LA traded for Westbrook in the summer of 2021. Tuesday’s loss dropped their combined record to 11-11. Still, Davis and James were encouraged.
“I think we played well,” Davis said. “We wanted to go out and everybody to be aggressive. We didn’t want – I think last year we were sometimes playing selflessly, like, ‘Here [you take it].’ … It took away our aggressiveness. At times in the game, one of the three of us was aggressive, and it worked to make it look good.”
As James added, “I thought we were all sort of playing for free. And that allowed the three of us to be pretty much effective from the floor.”
TNT analyst Charles Barkley didn’t see it the same way.
“You know how I feel about Russell Westbrook,” Barkley said at halftime on the show. “I admire him. I respect him. It’s time for the Lakers to move him. They took all his joy out of life and basketball. … This guy was so exuberant and played with great energy and great emotion, I think of the mental wear and tear from last year, from this year. … And the thing is, he’ll be blamed no matter what, because the Lakers aren’t championship contenders. … I think he needs a fresh start, I think the Lakers need a fresh start, because they’re not contenders.”
Westbrook was asked about Barkley’s comments and if he’s lost the joy of the game since joining the Lakers.
“You know, man, I’m super blessed and I rely on my faith a lot,” Westbrook said. “So I have a lot of great friends and family, good people in my corner who support me through thick and thin, and when I have God in my corner, no matter what happens outside of that. I’m staying on Of course, stay focused, stay locked in. That’s all I can ask.
“Whatever comes around, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll stick to my craft and everything else will take care of itself.”
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