Russell Westbrook says opponents are “playing harder” than the Lakers

Russell Westbrook
(AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

The Los Angeles Lakers continue to prove us wrong, finding a new “worst loss of the season” nearly every week. This time it was a 123-95 butt whooping at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers now drop to 27-33, still in the 9th seed in the Western Conference, with the Pelicans nearing towards them in the standings at 25-36 and 2.5 games behind the purple-and-gold. It was ugly on both sides of the floor, as all Pelicans starters ended the game in double-figure points while the Lakers’ offense had 23 turnovers — tied for their season-worst — led by LeBron James and Russell Westbrook each with seven a piece.

The defense and turnovers can be maligned all day and night, but the largest issue seems to be the team’s overall effort. As has been the case all season, opponents — especially younger ones — are just giving a damn more than the aging Lakers roster.

It’s something that Westbrook has noticed, saying the following after Sunday night’s loss (transcribed by ESPN’s Dave McMenamin):

“Teams are coming in, playing harder, and I believe that’s kind of their scouting report: Just play harder than them and see what happens,” Westbrook said. “And it’s working. Until we determine and have the determination that we’re not going to allow it, especially on our home floor, it will continue to happen to us.”

Even with the recent addition of C.J. McCollum who has been great so far with New Orleans, being in a tight game with them is sad enough without getting obliterated. There was already an apprehension in the air in Arena as the Pelicans held a close lead throughout the 2nd quarter, but as the lead was 11 going into halftime with it ballooning to 20 halfway through the 3rd quarter, the boo birds started to chirp amidst the Lakers faithful.

In addition to the above quote, Westbrook also commented on the team “getting down on themselves too much and not playing as hard as they can”. Later, he was followed up on this, with the media asking if that is just a byproduct of the culmination of this season’s failures wearing down on everyone (transcribed from this video from Spectrum SportsNet):

“Each individual deals with it separately. Obviously, I know your question. It’s hard for me, I don’t want to speak for anyone else. I think what’s going on with the season, injuries, different things, even the crowd today booing, it’s a lot for people. That can be a lot for somebody that’s not accustomed to it, it can take a toll. All I can keep doing is staying positive, make sure that I keep encouraging my teammates and keep building confidence in our locker room, regardless of what’s going on, regardless of what is said outside of our locker room, and make sure that we collectively do not point fingers. Because a lot of times, during times like this, everybody likes to point, point fingers. That’s an easy way out, instead of just owning what we do, and making sure we have each other’s backs. To me, that’s all I’m going to keep doing, make sure we keep our confidence high, keep our swagger up as we move forward to the end of the year to get our stride.”

And when Westbrook says “All I can keep doing is staying positive”, he means it, as he also said the following:

Call me crazy, but with 22 games left in the season, I don’t think the 9th seed in the Western Conference is about to go on some championship run.

It’s nice to hear that Westbrook is being a positive influence in the locker room (or at least he says he is), but that “bigger goal” of his has no basis in reality if Westbrook’s thoughts about opponents’ scouting reports are true. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if it’s true. If one of the Lakers’ “Big Three” and their highest-paid player thinks it is true, it might as well be, as it just shows the Lakers on the floor are seeing and feeling the same depressing reality we see as fans.

Anyways, the Lakers’ bigger goal of winning a championship will continue tomorrow as they host the Dallas Mavericks who are 7-3 in their last 10 games and are coming off a big win on the road against the Warriors.

Sounds fun!

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