With no middle ground to evaluate Russell Westbrook, the Lakers look destined for mediocrity … again – Yahoo Sports

With no middle ground to evaluate Russell Westbrook, the Lakers look destined for mediocrity ... again - Yahoo Sports

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s never too early to panic in Lakeland, or at least worry about the worst fears coming true.

Is it just one game or the same old Halloween horror movie repeating itself, with the same villain wreaking havoc?

The name gaps and a Hall of Fame piece that doesn’t quite fit with the rest were exposed in the Lakers123-109 opening night loss to the Golden State Warriorsand no one was in the mood to deflect what seemed clear to the naked eye.

Russell Westbrook returned to the starting lineup after a one-game preseason experiment — an experiment that saw him limp to the locker room with a groin injury last Friday, which he later blamed on coming off the bench after a career-long first-five run.

He was prompted by a question, so he didn’t cry wolf on his own, but he didn’t mind discussing his feelings about a role he hadn’t played since Nov. 28, 2008, when he came off the bench for the final. time as a novice with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Absolutely. I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to do before the game, I was trying to stay warm and loose.

“I felt something, didn’t know what it was. Won’t risk it in a preseason game. But it was definitely not something I was used to. It wasn’t hot enough. It was something I wasn’t used to.”

He’s an easy target, and some would say easy to defend given the many problems the Lakers have that don’t include him. There is hardly any mediocrity with him – which makes him difficult to rate. But hiring a team with talents like LeBron James and Anthony Davis leads to champagne expectations, therefore putting the focus on a Westbrook-like figure instead of looking at the roster to say that there is not much variation between a really good Laker season and an abominable disaster.

Charles Barkley throwing Westbrook a life raft, saying that the Lakers basically suck the life out of him, is not a foreign concept. But Westbrook just danced around it, choosing not to make an uncomfortable situation unbearable.

It’s hard to tell the bad because everything is so loud. Westbrook played generally well, but the turnovers were ugly and memorable – same for everyone else wearing purple, it has to be said.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman during the third quarter of the season opener at Chase Center in San Francisco on October 18, 2022. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)
Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman during the third quarter of the season opener at Chase Center in San Francisco on Oct. 18, 2022. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

The Warriors might be the best in the league at looking in the mirror and knowing what’s staring back at them. Even when they played sloppy, choppy or splashy, they never shed their skin.

Sooner or later, the shots were dropped. They did. Sooner or later, those whimsical passages will find their mark – Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole each had seven of the 31 assists of the military.

There was little doubt Curry or anyone else got a flashy ring Pressured the modest Lakers run midway through the fourth quarter. There is an inside knowledge and confidence that is not quite a continuation of last season, but the DNA on the floor is always present even in the face of drama.

“The Warriors are what they are, no doubt, I don’t need to harp on that, the greatness they possess every night with their ball club,” James said.

He later discovered what everyone saw for the better part of 48 minutes, the Lakers’ 3-point percentage looking like a cold day in January. At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers shot 19% from three on 31 attempts.

“I think we have great looks, but there could also be teams that give us great looks,” James said. “To be completely honest, we are not a team that is built on great shooting. Truth of the matter is not as you know, we [have] many lasers in our team. We’re not sitting here with a bunch of 40-plus [percent] career 3-point shooters.”

James has missed his share of open looks, but it’s hard to quantify how he’ll fare as a long-range shooter as he improves in that category over the last few years.

But it seems simple enough to identify what wins in today’s NBA, and shooting is a big part of that puzzle. Defending the perimeter, and doing it with strong wings are two other important components.

The Lakers appear to have none, which is what James was referring to. It’s not just winning unconventionally, but it clearly seems that a basic principle of this plan revolves around playing harder than the opponent.

Pat Beverley helps in ways other than the box score, and so will Dennis Schroder when he makes his return. It’s not the Golden Boys crew from last season, they’ve gotten younger in places.

But how many Lakers will have to play to their full potential to even escape the playoffs, assuming reasonable health for James and Davis?

Playing smarter and more opportunistically will help, and maybe they owe some injury strength. If that’s what this house is built on, the slightest miscalculation can take this team right back to where it doesn’t want to be.

Take Tuesday, for example. Westbrook believed the Lakers had a problem when they didn’t play fast. James didn’t seem to agree.

“I thought the game was like that,” James said, somewhat cryptically when asked about Westbrook’s comment.

There is a difference of opinion with James and Westbrook. Not a direct point of contention but certainly basketball philosophies that are not parallel. Maybe if both men were younger it would work – if James was the end-to-end supernova who just doesn’t need a shred of space before attacking defenses, if Westbrook was more efficient, or as efficient as he could be – they terrifies visiting arenas.

Instead, Chase Center fans mockingly begged Westbrook to shoot from the perimeter when the bigs gave him space, giving up 3-point shots. It would not have been like this 10 years ago, when both were athletically able to dominate from start to finish.

The vision of the comedic mistakes can cloud Westbrook playing a good game given where he is in his career, and James can put up numbers like 31 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in his sleep – even if it’s hard to remember many effective stanzas that put the Lakers into position to take control of this contest.

Davis was everywhere for moments — including the floor, taking falls more often than anyone wants to see.

Everyone promises to do the right things, to give this new arrangement an honest try. But somehow it seems that the Lakers are destined for mediocrity and Westbrook could be headed to the next game of “Who Is He Playing For?”

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