Russell Westbrook “Surprised” By Crunch-Time Benching

Lakers star Russell Westbrook told ESPN that he didn’t agree with the team’s decision to bench him during the deciding minutes of Wednesday’s loss to Indiana, writes ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Asked if he was surprised by the decision, Westbrook confirmed that he hadn’t been expecting it.

“Surprised, yes. I was disappointed I didn’t go back in, but I’m more disappointed that we lost the damn game,” Westbrook said. “I want to be able to be on the floor to help my teammates and be able to help our team win in games like that — but that was a decision that was made.”

As we outlined on Thursday, head coach Frank Vogel and his staff – with the support of management – opted to bench Westbrook with 3:52 left in the game after the nine-time All-Star continued to struggle with his shot and failed to execute on defense. Vogel later told reporters he was “playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game.”

Although Westbrook wasn’t thrilled by the decision, he suggested in comments to ESPN that he’s more concerned about the team’s win-loss record than his own role, adding that the Lakers have to “figure s— out and do what’s best for our team to win in the long run” and that he’s “committed to making this work.”

The 33-year-old was also upset with the perception that he left the arena on Wednesday without speaking to the media because he was angry about his benching. According to Wojnarowski, both Westbrook and the team said on Thursday that the organization had requested he skip a postgame interview.

“Ultimately, you have to be OK when s–t doesn’t go well and I’m OK,” Westbrook said. “I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me here, and I’ll continue to do so and ride this out as long as we can toward our ultimate goal — and that’s to win a championship.

“… I’m not the ultimate decision-maker of if it’s working — or if it’s not working. I’m OK with sacrificing some of the things that I’ve been able to do in this game to win, because that’s the most important part of this game. I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do to this point.”

Westbrook’s numbers – including a scoring average of 18.5 PPG – are down across the board through 45 games with the Lakers, and the team has a sub-.500 record (22-23) after entering the preseason as conference favorites. Still, the veteran guard remains confident that both he and the club can turn things around.

“I want to get better as the season goes on, and I’ve got to take responsibility for the things I’m doing and how I’m making those around me better,” Westbrook said. “We have a legitimate chance to be able to win it all, and to do that, I’ll have to better — and I know that I will be.”

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