Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers followed up their biggest win of the season with an absolute dud. They suffered their 23rd loss of the season, this time to the Indiana Pacers by a score of 111-104. While rumors have swirled on what’s next for Frank Vogel, this loss does not help his case. If he’s truly being evaluated on a game-to-game basis, then we may be seeing some big news about Vogel soon (although a firing will reportedly not happen before the Lakers’ next game on Friday against the Magic, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes).
In the fourth quarter, the Lakers closed the game without Russell Westbrook. It was the first time that he was not on the floor to close this season. Vogel spoke to the media after the game about the decision (h/t Daniel Starkand of Lakers Nation):
On benching Russ to close the game, Frank Vogel says he was “playing the guys I thought would win the game."
— Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand) January 20, 2022
It’s surely a strategy, but this decision only adds to more of the noise coming out of Los Angeles. In addition, it seems as if Westbrook isn’t happy about it.
Russell Westbrook left the arena without speaking to reporters tonight.
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 20, 2022
What’s even more revealing is the most recent report from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
Over the past week and a half, Lakers management has told the coaching staff to coach Westbrook as the coaches see fit, even if that means pulling him from a game, as Vogel did for the final 3 minutes, 52 seconds of the fourth quarter against Indiana, sources told ESPN.
This is the play that made Vogel bench Westbrook, per @mcten
“The final straw, pushing the staff to honor their instinct to bench him, was when Caris LeVert blew by Westbrook on defense for a layup with 7 minutes, 13 seconds”
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) January 20, 2022
Westbrook was brought to the Lakers to be a star. He was meant to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a superstar trio. Westbrook being benched in the fourth quarter screams desperation. It’s the exact type of move that someone faced with losing their job would try.
It’s going to take a miracle stretch for the Lakers to make up one of the many unexpected losses they’ve suffered. This game can go in the bin with losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and Minnesota Timberwolves. These are all teams struggling to get near the play-in tournament.
Just when timing was already trash for the Lakers, they poured an entire dump truck of shit on top of things. A win could have given them some cushion as they head on the road against the Orlando Magic. After that, their road trip is stiff with matchups against the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets amongst other squads. If the Lakers can’t shape up against the Magic on Friday, they could very well leave the road trip falling further and further down the standings.