Here are five observations from the Lakers’ 125-121 overtime win in San Antonio:
1) So, that’s why you make the trade
The basketball-fit questions surrounding the Russell Westbrook trade probably won’t be answered in Game 4 of the regular season. This team will be judged whether it wins a title or doesn’t. But the version of Westbrook the Lakers got Tuesday made the arguments for making the trade pretty clear.
With LeBron James out with an ankle injury, the Lakers still had plenty of game-changing talent available, and Westbrook was terrific. Behind relentless attacking to the rim and skillful finishing, he had his best game as a Laker — BY FAR — scoring 33 points to go with 10 rebounds, eight assists, three steal and only three turnovers.
“He had just a monster night,” Frank Vogel said.
The void created with James out might’ve helped free Westbrook up some, but the Lakers want him to play with this level of aggression nightly.
“I told Russ, I said, ‘Whether I play, ‘Bron play, we don’t play, it doesn’t matter. You still gotta be yourself,’” Anthony Davis said. “He did that tonight. The way he played tonight was incredible. And we need that from him every night. Whether ‘Bron is playing or not, whether I’m playing or not. Be yourself, and we’ll find ways to kind of adjust around him.”
2) Some better luck this time?
Even though James sat Tuesday after injuring his ankle Sunday against Memphis, it certainly wasn’t the same kind of severity that cost him a bunch of games last season. And when Anthony Davis went to the ground grabbing his knee late in the game Tuesday, a bit of last-season angst again resurfaced.
But instead of being some kind of noncontact disaster, Davis simply knocked knees with San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray.
“He was doing his job flying in, and I was still kind of planted on the ground. He ran into my knee. Like a little stinger, a little stinger,” Davis said. “And then [I] started moving, it just kind of went away. I kept playing. Still felt it a little bit but finished the game. And we’ll see how it is when I wake up tomorrow.”
He stayed in the game and finished off a great performance, leaving the floor with 35 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks.
While feeling OK postgame is a positive sign, it’s no lock when it comes to the Lakers’ next game Wednesday in Oklahoma City. James, after Sunday’s game with Memphis, said he felt like he’d be good to go, but he was downgraded over the course of the 24 hours leading up to the game with San Antonio.
Davis said he’d know more before Wednesday’s game with the Thunder.
3) Shooter’s shoot
With James out, the Lakers turned to guard Malik Monk to step in to the starting lineup, and the young guard delivered. He scored 17 points, the Lakers outscoring the Spurs by 31 points in the 39 minutes Monk played.
The biggest moment came with the Lakers down one late in the fourth quarter, with Monk getting the ball in transition and moving right into a shot from well behind the three-point line. He drilled it, giving the Lakers a lead.
“I got unlimited range,” Monk said with a laugh.
4) Is it going to be this hard?
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t take monster games from Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis to sneak past San Antonio just like it shouldn’t take Carmelo Anthony making everything for the Lakers to beat the Grizzlies. But this world, just like the Lakers roster, isn’t perfect.
With James, the Lakers are pretty thin on the wings and without him, things can get pretty dire pretty quickly. But considering how mixed up the Lakers are on defense and how stacked their injury report is, any road win is a good road win.
5) Unlikely rivals
There was some spirited trash talk aimed at LeBron James on Tuesday — only it came from the creator of the Netflix show “Squid Game.”
After a video of James saying he didn’t like the ending of the very binge-able series went viral, Hwang Dong-hyuk defended his vision.
“Have you seen Space Jam 2?” Dong-hyuk said in an interview with The Guardian. “LeBron James is cool and can say what he wants. I respect that. I’m very thankful he watched the whole series. But I wouldn’t change my ending. That’s my ending. If he has his own ending that would satisfy him, maybe he could make his own sequel. I’ll check it out and maybe send him a message saying, ‘I liked your whole show, except the ending.’”