He started Isaac Bong, who played only five minutes but finished with a plus-5.
Those five minutes were huge, Brooks said. He switched to Rui Hachimur, calling him the difference maker of the last two weeks thanks to his defensive versatility.
He took her in his arms, and there was the usual cheerful murmur, but then a brief pause. It was agreed that someone else would get the floor, as he does after every game if he wants to.
Hey, don’t interfere with what we’re doing, Russell Westbrook said. Don’t get tired of doing the same thing over and over again …. Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me…. That’s what we’re doing.
The Wizards came out of the Moda Center with their fourth straight win by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111, showing they can turn around their shaky start to the season.
Westbrook had his best game this season. He scored an efficient 27 points and added 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his eighth triple-double of the season. That puts him behind John Wall and Wes Unseld for the second time in Wizards franchise history – just behind Darrell Walker (15). Bradley Beal scored 37 points, Hachimura 17, Davis Bertans 3 points and the Wizards looked like a good team.
It’s been a tumultuous season for the Wizards, and the league’s health and safety protocols were violated for weeks while the team dealt with the COWID-19 outbreak and contact tracing. There were victims, large and small. There have been unbearable losses. The embarrassment was great.
We’ve been saying all along we need parts, we need parts, Brooks said. Well, February gave us games. That’s what we need.
After John Wall was traded for Westbrook before the start of the season, there was optimism that the former MVP’s leadership and intensity could transform the young Wizards into a strong team in the Eastern Conference. And Brooks has maintained for weeks, despite disappointing lows, that the Wizards are on the verge of a breakthrough.
However, it was not clear that the Wizards needed Westbrook to return to his elite level. He was sidelined for several weeks in early January by a quadricep injury, and the team’s lost games and practices have further corroded his game. Westbrook is a well-known rhythm player who needs games to solve problems. The more he plays, the sharper he gets. The button is stuck. His jump is softer. His solutions are better. The finish is stronger.
He’s starting to get a rhythm. Brooks said he’s going to have more contests like this. This guy is a championship player. How he’s prepared. The way he talks to our guys. He’s forcing the team to be ready.
Russell Westbrook is on the field for his final triple-double for the Wizards. Cameron Brown/NBAE via Getty Images
But at age 32, Westbrook had to take a different approach to his recovery. It was a slow process, something that needed to be adjusted.
At the beginning of the year, I was debating and it was a difficult point for me, honestly, because I don’t like to let my teammates down. I want to make sure I’m available to them even if I’m not 100%, he said. And I always have. It’s probably not the best, but honestly, as I got older, I had to stop. I had to stop because I couldn’t inflate and move properly.
Questions have been asked about this that should have been asked a long time ago. There were disturbing signs of washing. He seemed slower, and the power wasn’t on. The cruelty was not the same. But according to Westbrook, it was just because he wanted to play a longer game for once.
I feel much better now, he continued. I can move around, get a breath of fresh air and catch up with people and affect the game on both sides and I will continue to improve as the season goes on. I don’t give a shit.
Westbrook has played exceptionally hard for 12 seasons with a nightly consistency that few players can match. He put in a lot of miles and had knee surgery. His style is to forget about personal safety in 48 minutes, not waste a minute thinking about the future, focus only on the here and now. His approach is what made him an NBA legend. But it’s also something he’ll struggle with for the rest of his career.
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Sunday, February 21.
– Celtics v Pelicans, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
– Nets v Clippers, 8 p.m. on ESPN
Wednesday, February 24.
– Warriors v Pacers, 7.30 p.m. on ESPN
– Lakers v Jazz, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Friday, Feb. 26.
– Pacers v Celtics, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
– Blazers v Lakers, 10 p.m. on ESPN
After the Wizards beat the Nets in a wild battle in the final five seconds a few weeks ago, Brooks spoke candidly about the rest of the process Westbrook has gone through this season. Brooks – and his successor Billy Donovan – have always admired Westbrook’s ability to move immediately on a bounce, as the captain could apparently get out of bed, get up to 10 and sprint for dunks. He approached his recovery the same way, playing with almost every little bump and tackling bigger things with a ferocity that brought him back early from knee surgery, playing with a bump on his face and nursing torn ligaments in his arm.
He didn’t do it this time, Brooks said a few weeks ago after the Wizards shocked the Nets with Westbrook’s wild 3. I’m glad, because he’s an old man now.
What Westbrook wanted in a deal with Houston was to return to his current I do what I want to do and lead the team on the field. He would bring his immense appeal to the new locker room and the team would embrace his intense identity. He wanted to play it his way and not worry about analytical equations. The Wizards were desperate for cultural refreshment.
He’s the one who set the tone. Our guys are a lot more determined to get ready to win the game, Brooks said. He has led us down so many paths that I don’t even want to go down. Our players know that. Ask any player on this team. You know he means it. It’s not a hobby for him. Many people in this league consider it a hobby. It’s fun. We do what we like. I get it. But it’s still your job, your livelihood, the way you represent your organization, your city, your family, your coaches. And Russell does it at the highest level I’ve ever seen.
He showed us the way to become a [team] champion, Brooks added. Our young people need it. Sometimes they don’t realize how hard it is for him, but in a few years they will realize that this is how you start your career off on the right foot, by surrounding yourself with good players.
Beal is about to play the All-Star Game and gives Westbrook credit for improvement. Westbrook has a long history of working with and promoting top talent. He helped Kevin Durant win four titles and the MVP title. Paul George played the best season of his career at Westbrook. And with Beal, Westbrook recognizes his place as a complementary star who will step aside to keep his teammate cooking, but who will also pass on his willingness when needed.
My job is to keep pushing him and get the best out of him every night, Westbrook said of Beal.
Westbrook has never been a model of consistency. His ruthlessness is part of his skill set, as a basketball renegade ready to take on the burden of failure. But the engine should run in first gear, even if the oil needs to be changed a little more often.
I don’t see the ups and downs you’re talking about. I see his shot going up and down, Brooks said, but his game is not based on making or missing shots. It’s about leading us.