SAN FRANCISCO — Russell Westbrook stated that the player “absolutely” believes that Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham’s decision to take Russell Westbrook off the bench during L.A.’s preseason game could have contributed to the hamstring strain that he sustained the night.
“I’ve been doing the same thing for 14 years straight,” Westbrook stated in the aftermath of the Lakers losing 123-109 to the Golden State Warriors in their regular season opener on Tuesday night. “Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do pregame. Being honest, I was trying to figure out how to stay warm and loose. … That’s something I just wasn’t accustomed to.”
Westbrook returned to the starting lineup for the Warriors and was playing as the first team for the first time in his career’s 1,022 games — after having been restricted prior to the match due to his injury to his hamstring.
He only played for one minute in his exhibition defeat against the Sacramento Kings on Friday. He mentioned that he was in a position to play longer but decided against it because, “I wasn’t going to risk it in a preseason game.”
Westbrook played 31 minutes in the game against Golden State and finished with 19 points, shooting 7-for-12 with 11 rebounds, three assists four turnovers and one steal. His plus-minus of minus-six was higher than two of LeBron’s teammates, LeBron James (-10) and Anthony Davis (-21).
Ham said he would like Westbrook’s strategy for competition to help his team get off to the beginning tip.
“You want to start the game off the right way in terms of your energy and being in attack mode, and no one better than him,” Ham said. Ham, who spoke with journalists before Westbrook did so following the game. “I mean, it’s what we have, and we got some key guys hurt. It’s Game 1, give them a chance to go out and compete at the highest level. I thought he was solid. I thought he was solid. A couple possessions I wish I can get back, but overall, I thought he was solid.”
Prior to the game, Ham said he wanted to “establish” a consistent starting unit.
“We don’t want to be one of those teams,” he added, “where teams are swaying according to who their opponent is starting.”
If asked if this means he’d stay with his first-night starters for a time, Ham would not commit.
“We’ll see,” he declared. “I’m a day-by-day guy.”
Davis declared following playing that Westbrook’s bench position in the game against Kings was just an experiment.
“I don’t think he was ever out of [the starting group],” Davis declared. “I think it was a look [at a different rotation] in Sac.”
It was the 22nd regular season game Davis, Westbrook and James played in a team game in the years since L.A. traded for Westbrook in the summer of 2021. This loss brought their combined record to 11-11. However, Davis James and Davis James were optimistic.
“I think we played well,” Davis stated. “We wanted to come out and everybody be aggressive. We didn’t want to — I think last year at times we were playing selfless, like, ‘Here [you take it].’ … It took away our aggression. At certain moments throughout the game, one of us three were aggressive, and it worked out for it to look good.”
As James stated, “I thought we all just kind of played free. And it resulted in all three of us pretty much being efficient from the floor.”
TNT Analyst Charles Barkley didn’t see it in the same way.
“You know how I feel about Russell Westbrook,” Barkley declared at the half-time of the show. “I admire him. I respect him. It’s time for the Lakers to move him. They have taken all his joy out of life and basketball. … This guy used to be so exuberant and play with great energy and great emotion, I think the wear and tear mentally last year, starting this year. … And the thing is, he’s going to get the blame no matter what, because the Lakers ain’t a championship contender. … I think he needs a fresh start, I think the Lakers need a fresh start, because they’re not contenders.”
Westbrook was inquired about Barkley’s comments, and if he’s lost interest in the game after joining the Lakers.
“You know, man, I’m super blessed and leaning a lot on my faith,” Westbrook stated. “So I’m blessed with many great family and friends, wonderful people who help me in all facets And with God in my side, it doesn’t matter what happens beyond this. I’m on the right track to stay focused, stay committed. That’s all I do.
“Everything else that comes around it, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing, stay locked in on my craft and everything else will take care of itself.”