'Just play' Lakers teammates tell embattled Westbrook
Los Angeles Lakers fans may have come down hard on Russell Westbrook, but his teammates had his back after another disappointing outing for the NBA's triple-double king.
Westbrook was roundly booed by home fans at Crypto.com arena on Saturday night when he missed a shot off the side of the backboard as the Lakers struggled early against the New York Knicks.
The Lakers would turn things around in the second half to claim a thrilling 122-115 overtime victory -- but Westbrook featured little in the rally as he was benched for the first half of the fourth quarter and in overtime.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he was "playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game.
"Russ was having a tough night, on both sides of the ball," added Vogel, who had also benched Westbrook late in a game in January against the Indiana Pacers.
Westbrook said the team's victory took the sting out of the latest benching.
"Guys competed. We won the game and that's all that matters," said Westbrook, who scored five points on 1-for-10 shooting with six assists and four turnovers.
While fans at one point in the fourth quarter were urging Westbrook not to take a shot, Lakers star Anthony Davis said it was important that Westbrook maintain his confidence.
"It can be frustrating," Davis said. "The fans, obviously, want to see him play better. But one thing you can't do is put too much pressure on yourself.
"You have to go out there and play freely. There were some shots tonight that he usually takes in rhythm that he kind of passed up or hesitated. Me and (LeBron James) were telling him, 'We don't care if you miss every one. Just play.'"
Superstar James, who had a 29-point triple-double in his return from a five-game injury absence, had a similar message of support when they spoke after the game.
- Instinctive player -
"I told him to keep going, to stop second-guessing himself during the game," James said. "There were a couple of times where he had good looks, second-guessed himself and a couple times where he had some drives and he had them and second-guessed himself.
"He's an instinctive player and he should never, what he's done in this league, he should never second-guess himself if he has put the work in -- and he has put the work in."
Westbrook's aggressive instincts and versatility saw him earn NBA Most Valuable Player honors with Oklahoma City in 2017. He was the NBA scoring champion in 2015 and 2017 and last May while with the Washington Wizards surpassed the great Oscar Robertson for the all-time lead in NBA triple-doubles.
The Lakers landed him in a blockbuster deal in July, when the addition of Westbrook to a lineup featuring James and Davis was expected to make the Lakers a title threat in 2022.
Instead, Westbrook's struggles have mirrored those of an erratic Lakers team, but he said that was part of the game.
"It happens," he said. "I missed some shots that I normally make."
He also noted that his chemistry with James and Davis could improve if they can all stay healthy and on the floor together. They have played just 17 games together.
"Hopefully we can see what that looks like moving forward," he said.