LOS ANGELES — For a lot of the final yr, dwelling has not been a haven for Russell Westbrook.
His grand entrance to the franchise he cheered for since childhood shortly collapsed underneath the pressure of shedding, and Westbrook – battling turnovers and slumps – typically discovered himself the unwitting poster boy for the Lakers’ foibles. He informed reporters at one level he had stopped wanting his household to return to dwelling video games, watching their father get booed and feeling the sting of unruly followers themselves.
The clouds broke Sunday night – only a week faraway from arguably the low level of his Lakers tenure – when Westbrook gestured to the house crowd to rise up and clap throughout an Anthony Davis free throw. The followers stood up and cheered, totally behind the embattled 33-year-old guard, as if seeing the sunshine for the primary time.
The most important improvement for the Lakers was that they received: With a 121-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets at dwelling, they’re not the final winless NBA group (1-5). However the standout moments of the sport have been infused by Westbrook, who got here off the bench for the second straight sport and whipped the followers into an enthusiastic frenzy.
In a single memorable second to shut the third quarter, he pitched a go to Austin Reaves, who drove in for a lay-up and bought a foul besides. Westbrook charged towards Reaves, screaming and flexing together with his teammate, as the group chanted “LET’S GO LA-KERS!”
Westbrook had 18 factors, 8 rebounds and eight assists, exhibiting the aggression and vitality of his Oklahoma Metropolis prime. The Lakers outscored the Nuggets by 18 factors when he was on the ground.
Whereas his Large Three teammates poured in a lot within the Lakers first win of the yr – LeBron James had 26 factors whereas Anthony Davis had 23 factors and 15 rebounds – the reception Westbrook bought was maybe the loudest and warmest he’s gotten in any of his video games as a Laker. However Westbrook stated his biggest pleasure got here from moments just like the one with Reaves, seeing his teammates feeding off his vitality.
“I like seeing my teammates, flourish, actually,” he stated. “I get a pleasure by seeing others do nice. My entire profession, what lifts me up is to see others do nicely. And tonight was that night time to see guys making pictures, competing and that’s all you possibly can ask for.”
The nice and cozy emotions have been all of the extra shocking due to every week in the past: Taking part in crunch time minutes towards Portland, the Lakers struggled to assault the Path Blazers’ scheme of hunkering down within the paint towards Westbrook. Westbrook compounded it by making a late mistake – pulling up for a jumper with 27 seconds left – that resulted within the Lakers fumbling away a 7-point lead with two minutes remaining.
Within the interim, he missed a street sport towards Denver, then got here again towards Minnesota in a bench function that head coach Darvin Ham stated ought to be the established order going ahead. One way or the other, that call has unlocked the dynamic model of Westbrook that the group envisioned again in 2021 once they traded for him.
His group responded to his play additionally: After one in all his fourth-quarter shifts after Westbrook had compelled a turnover and made a 3-pointer, Ham stood together with his head pressed towards his, as if to encourage him to maintain the warmth on.
“One of many largest issues about me getting this job was for him to get that respect that he deserved as a result of a number of what went on final yr was not his fault, and the whole lot, all the blame, was positioned on him,” Ham stated. “And so I informed him, ‘Man, simply hearken to me. Consider in me, bro. I’m gonna put you in a positon to succeed with the group. However it’s a must to put the group first. It may well’t be about me or I or mine. It’s gotta be us, ours, we.’ And he’s executed that.”
The Lakers gained steam as the sport went on, outscoring their guests in every of the ultimate three quarters. After beginning the season taking pictures an NBA-worst 23% from behind the arc, they have been 13 for 30 on 3-pointers towards Denver, an overflowing gush of offense after their trickle of their first 5 video games.
Davis performed by way of apparent again ache to match up with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. The final of his 10 discipline targets was a key putback because the Lakers held onto their lead, however Davis grimaced as he landed, and completed out the sport limping.
Nonetheless Davis held his personal, matching Jokic’s essential counting stats (23 factors, 14 rebounds, 6 assists) practically tit for tat. For each wince was an identical triumphant shout as he drained his jumpers in entrance of the Denver bench. Davis stated the ache modifications daily, however he’s making an attempt to powerful out his harm.
“It kinda simply comes and goes, these little shocks that go,” he stated. “However at that time, it’s such as you’re enjoying off of adrenaline. So, I do know tonight, perhaps tomorrow, I’m in all probability going to really feel it extra. However it’s all manageable. Simply gotta do what I can to ensure I’m on the ground to assist the group win.”
James began as slowly as anybody, blowing his first 4 pictures from level clean vary. However he and Davis mixed for 15 of the Lakers’ 28 factors within the fourth quarter, together with a 3 that felt just like the dagger. Lonnie Walker IV had 18 factors, whereas Reaves added 10.
After the sport, the group reduce Ham’s postgame speech quick, as Patrick Beverley led the gamers’ postgame bathe of Ham, who notched his first win as a full-time head coach.
“He made a speech and it was like, ‘All proper Coach, we don’t care what you’re saying,’” stated a grinning Davis. “After which we drowned him with water.”
However Westbrook bought the largest curtain name, attending to the free throw line with 47 seconds left to a roar of approval. As he left for the locker room, the sector blared Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”
Perhaps L.A. is lastly beginning to love him again.