ORLANDO — Russell Westbrook made up for his unceremonious exit from Wednesday’s loss to Indiana by showing up ready to play in the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 116-105 win over the Magic on Friday, starting their six-game road trip off right.
“My job as a player, as a professional, is to do my job, continue to find ways to be able to help impact winning,” Westbrook said after finishing with 18 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. “That’s all I was thinking about and turned the page to do and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who made the decision to sit Westbrook for the last four minutes of the loss to the Pacers as the point guard was struggling through a 5-for-17 shooting night and failing to execute defensively, was effusive in his praise Friday.
“Russ played a really good basketball game,” Vogel said. “He came in very focused and played efficient offensively and brought a pure energy to the game. He just wanted to impose his will, play his part and played a hell of a game.”
The Lakers fell down by 10 to the cellar-dwelling Magic (8-39), but took control in the third with a 21-4 run to begin the quarter.
Westbrook, who shot 8-for-17, extended his streak to 10 straight games without scoring 20 or more points — the first time that’s happened to him since 2009, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information — but he made a difference with the nature of those points.
“His attacks are great,” said LeBron James, who scored 29 points, extending his streak to 16 straight games with 25 points or more. “Thought he did a great job of getting to the paint, either for his shot or spraying out [to shooters]. And guys just played off of his energy and effort tonight.”
Carmelo Anthony, who scored 23 points off the bench, credited Westbrook for playing with “more of a controlled pace.” Westbrook said his paint touches — either by drives or cutting off-ball to receive feeds near the hoop — are a clear way to help the Lakers, who are back at .500 (23-23) with the win.
“Just getting in the paint and finding ways to be able to make an impact by doing that,” he said. “Constantly putting pressure on the defense, which is something that I’m good at, that I think I can make an impact with this team and find ways to give guys easy shots.”
For the team and its fans, it was refreshing to hear Westbrook’s postgame comments focus on the ins and outs of the actual game and not center on his overall fit or where the Lakers’ season is going, as has happened so often since he came to L.A.
“Russ is a high-character guy,” Vogel said. “We knew we were going to respond. We communicated afterwards to make sure that we understood what was going on — we’re just coaching to win the game. And to turn the page on to Orlando. And he did a great job maintaining that focus and we’re all committed to this group getting the job done. We still believe in what we can be. It’s been bumpy throughout the course of the year. But we’re committed.”
“We started it off right with a win tonight,” Westbrook said. “Get to Miami and figure out a way we can come out of there with a win as well.
“But it’s a big trip for us. A good bonding and togetherness trip for our group and finding ways to be able to come together and come out with some wins and create some rhythm, some confidence in our group that we can be the team that we all know that we should be.”