Lakers’ Russell Westbrook knows he needs to ‘play harder’

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook, right, drives to the basket on Portland Trail Blazers forward Norman Powell, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

The moment of reckoning arrived for Russell Westbrook after his 1-for-13 shooting and six-turnover game that Anthony Davis was unable to finish because of a stomach illness and that had LeBron James sitting on the bench with a strained abdominal, leading the Lakers guard to declare that his style of play “doesn’t work for our team.”

After he scored eight points and the Lakers dropped an ugly 105-90 game to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center on Saturday night, Westbrook talked about his need to “play harder.”

“Do a better job of being me consistently and not confining my game or how I play because it just doesn’t work for our team and it doesn’t work just in general, just doesn’t put me in the position or a pace I need to play at to be able to better my teammates,” Westbrook said late Saturday night after the Lakers dropped to 5-5. :”So, that’s just something I need to make sure I’m consistently doing.”

Westbrook was the last of the big three left after Davis, whom Lakers coach Frank Vogel said “had already thrown up four times” by tip-off, departed after the first quarter, and James was missing his fourth game of the season because of injuries.

Westbrook has been known for his hard-playing, push-the-pace and attacking play throughout his 14-year NBA career.

He made it sound as if he wants to tailor his game to fit with James, Davis and the rest of his new teammates on the Lakers.

“I’m just trying to figure it out, you know?” Westbrook said. “It’s what I do. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done the last four or five years. Try to figure it out. Come to a new team, try to make the best of the situation and being the player that I am, and I like to find ways to do what’s better for the team, whatever the coach asks me to do. But with that is always a struggle to make sure that I am able to be who I am supposed to be on the floor and that’s doing everything and playing the hardest I can possibly play. And I’ve gotta do that for our team and I didn’t do that tonight, but that is something that I will make sure is done moving forward.”

Westbrook said he’s not putting “no pressure on myself” because he views himself as “very elite at what I do.”

“There’s no extra pressure of any sort for me. Like I said, I’ve been doing this every year. It’s not like a new thing,” he said. “When I figure it out, then I’ll be in better position. But right now, so many different things happening, lineup changes, so many different people in and out. When we’re playing, we’re not winning — which is primarily the most of the reason why I always feel like I need to do something better for our team when we don’t win, and that’s just how I am as a player. So, losing doesn’t help anything. When we win… I don’t care a damn what happens. But when we lose, me personally, I always take ownership in my play, because if I’m not playing the best way that we can play, then I feel like it’s on me to play better, to give us a better chance of winning ball games.”

This is Westbrook’s fourth team in four years and from Oklahoma City to Houston and Washington, he said he has figured it out.

He said it’s up to “me to be able to make that change,” and he has vowed to make it happen.

“So, I’m just kind like figuring out the best way to better play,” he said. “The good part about it is I’m so blessed and thankful that I can do so many different things on the floor, that I can do whatever, with anybody. I can play with anybody. And I’m very comfortable with that. But also, I take a lot of pride, and I take a lot of just energy and effort to make sure I can be the best I can be with the guys we have on this team and make the best of this situation.”

Carmelo Anthony is also new to the Lakers, but he played with Westbrook on the 2017-18 Thunder team, and he has an understanding of what his teammate can do.

“He’s always figured out how to adapt, how to make adjustments, what he has to do personally, physically, mentally to lead,” Anthony said. “We can’t control that. That’s something that he controls and only he knows what he has to do. We got to be there just to support him and that’s what we will do.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.