Lakers Notes: Westbrook, LeBron, Monk, S. Johnson

Russell Westbrook is being criticized for a poor shooting night Saturday against the Nets, but LeBron James came to the defense of his teammate after the Lakers suffered their fifth straight loss, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Westbrook turned in another triple-double, but he shot just 4-of-20 from the field, committed five fouls and three turnovers, and missed a shot at the rim in the closing seconds of the game.

“He gave us extra possessions, he gave us a lot of looks around the basket, which I know that he can’t stand (failing to convert) as well,” James said. “But as far as the effort piece, if a guy plays hard, if a guy leaves it all out on the floor, I got no problem with that. It’s a make-or-miss league.”

L.A. sent three rotation players and a draft pick to the Wizards over the summer to acquire Westbrook, who they hoped would form a dangerous Big Three with James and Anthony Davis. However, the results have been mixed at best as the Lakers are 16-18 and Westbrook is averaging just 19.6 points per game, shooting 45.1% from the field and 30.4% from three-point range and committing 4.6 turnovers per night. There have been rumors that the front office has already discussed trading him, but his contract, which includes a $47.1MM player option for next season, makes that difficult.

“A big part of it is he just wants it so bad,” acting head coach David Fizdale said. “I mean, you can just see it in him, everybody does. He wants it so bad. And I know that’s just hard for him when it doesn’t work out. And I know he cares like crazy.”

There’s more on the Lakers:

  • L.A. is in danger of becoming the first franchise not to maximize James’ considerable talents, contends Bill Oram of The Athletic. LeBron’ presence used to mean an almost automatic trip to the NBA Finals, but apart from the title run in 2020, the Lakers haven’t won a playoff series since signing him and may be headed for another appearance in the play-in round.
  • The team got a boost from Malik Monk, who returned to the lineup Saturday after missing five games while in the health and safety protocols, per Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Monk learned he was in the protocols during the team’s recent road trip and wound up spending five days in Minnesota.
  • Appearing in his first game since signing a hardship contract, Stanley Johnson was happy to be back on the court and playing for his hometown team, Turner adds. “I kinda just like let it happen,” Johnson said. “I was in quarantine a day ago, like 36 hours ago … and I have barely time to do anything and they throw me in the game and I play a lot of minutes. I’m just, one, blessed and grateful to even be here right now and just learn as much as I can to be as useful as I can for this team.”
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