They spoke over the summer about Russell Westbrook “being above average defensively,” and after seeing the veteran guard compete on the defensive end Thursday night against the Clippers, Lakers coach Darvin Ham was assured that his message had gotten across.
Even when it appeared he was overmatched by 6-foot-8 Paul George and the 6-7 Kawhi Leonard, the 6-3 Westbrook refused to back down on his defensive assignment.
Westbrook had five steals, three in the fourth quarter, to help the Lakers stay close and have a chance.
He re-entered the game with 5 minutes 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
His first steal in the fourth quarter came while defending Leonard in the post when Westbrook intercepted an entry pass from John Wall.
His second steal in the fourth came again while defending Leonard in the post when he stole an entry pass from George.
Then with 2:22 left in the game, Westbrook was one-on-one with Leonard, with the Clippers forward using his strength to try to back down the Lakers point guard at the corner of the free-throw line. Westbrook held his ground and forced Leonard into a traveling turnover.
Westbrook’s last steal of the game was from an errant pass by Clippers center Ivica Zubac.
As they watched film of some of those plays during practice Saturday, Ham came away impressed.
“I mean, he defended his behind off, man,” said Ham, whose team plays the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday afternoon at Crypto.com Arena. “We watched film of him today and had a bunch of clips of him guarding Kawhi one-on-one, keeping him in front. What we call our ‘white,’ fronting him in the post. Coming up with steals consecutively.
“That’s what I asked of him and that’s what I preached this summer and everybody looked at me like I was crazy. But Russ is still an elite athlete. And those are the things I’m talking about when I’m saying sacrifice. Not to take anything away, necessarily, but for him to diversify his game. And he’s been trying to do that. And part of that includes being above average defensively. And I think people got a clear look at that in the last game and I’m expecting a whole lot more.”
Troy Brown Jr. hopes to play
Troy Brown Jr. said “a herniated disk” in his back kept him sidelined so far this season, but he is hoping to make his debut with the Lakers on Sunday.
The Lakers listed Brown, Anthony Davis (low back tightness) and LeBron James (left foot soreness) as probable.
Brown said “that’s the plan” when asked if he will be a go against the Trail Blazers.
“Wake up tomorrow feeling good,” Brown said, “and go tomorrow. So, yeah.”
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Brown acknowledged that the injury “hurt me mentally” because he had worked so hard during the summer.
With the Lakers lacking size at the wing, the athletic 6-6 Brown would be a welcomed addition.
“Defensively, just plugging in gaps, using my length,” Brown said of helping on defense. “Like, I see a lot of guys driving like through the middle, just like being at that nail, being able to stunt, give guys like a quick second just to get back on the pick and rolls, or be one of the X-outs on the backside. Like, just being able to play that and force teams to make those hang passes to buy us more time to get into sets.
“I feel like a lot of guys are like driving and penetrating and we don’t have a lot of length to recover. So, that’s the biggest thing for me defensively. And offensively, just being able to create, being able to make plays for others and then obviously being able to shoot it.”
When: 12:30 p.m. Sunday
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: The Lakers are struggling on offense, ranking in the bottom of the NBA in several categories. They are averaging only 103 points per game, ranking them 27th in the league before Saturday night’s games. They are ranked 29th in field-goal shooting (38.8%) and last in three-point shooting (22.4%). They are taking 42.5 three-pointers per game, the sixth highest in the league, and are making 9.5, ranking 26th.