Darvin Ham insisted Russell Westbrook is one of the best players the NBA has ever seen upon his announcement as Los Angeles Lakers head coach on Monday.

The nine-time All-Star and former MVP had a patchy first season in the purple and gold despite averages of 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists.

The 33-year-old was widely regarded as the cause behind the Lakers finishing with a 33-49 record which saw them finish 11th in the Western Conference, even missing the Play-In Tournament.

Asked about fitting Westbrook with LeBron James and Anthony Davis during his introduction as the Lakers coach, Ham took the opportunity to defend the embattled point guard.

"Don't get it messed up," he said. "Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen, and there's still a ton left in that tank. I don't know why people tend to try to write him off.

"I'm going to approach him like I do every player I've ever encountered. We're going to talk about our running habits, with the ball, without the ball. And again, the team, the rhythm of the team and trying to establish a rhythm with LeBron, Russ, AD.

"And again, share the load defensively and offensively. Defensively is where you're going to see us make our biggest leaps and bounds. We have to commit to the defensive side of the ball or we don't have a chance to do anything. Our offence won't even matter if we don't get stops."

After an eight-year playing career in the NBA, Ham got his first coaching job in the league working as an assistant at the Lakers, as a part of Mike Brown's staff in 2012-13.

After that season, the 48-year-old spent the following years on Mike Budenholzer's staff with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, winning the NBA title in 2021.

"The fact that I got my start as a coach here, this place will always be special for me," Ham said. "It's like a homecoming for me, in all seriousness."

"As sad as it is for me to be leaving coach Bud, sometimes you got to walk that walk on your own. We went from colleagues, to friends, to brothers while all the while making history."

It was perhaps not the most surprising news when it emerged on Monday that coach Frank Vogel had been dismissed by the Los Angeles Lakers.   One of the most star-studded teams of all time inexplicably failed to even make the NBA Play-In tournament, finishing the season with a record of 33-49 and in 11th place in the western conference.   However, it would have been astonishing to imagine this scenario in September, when Vogel was handed a one-year extension to his deal, and especially a year prior to that when he was lifting an NBA championship in his first year with the Lakers.   How did we get here, though?

Vogel enjoyed a good start to his career in coaching, making it to the play-offs with the Indiana Pacers in each of his first four years, reaching the conference finals in 2013 and 2014.

After six years in Indiana, he moved to the Orlando Magic, but was unable to repeat the trick there with a young team, with an overall regular season record in his two years in Florida of 54-110, failing to reach the post-season in either campaign before being fired in 2018.

A year later, he was appointed by the Lakers, making a great start as he boasted a regular season record of 52-19, before going on to win their first championship in 10 years.

Vogel's second season was not as smooth, with a 42-30 regular season record. A dramatic Play-In victory against the Golden State Warriors brewed excitement that another dramatic championship run could be on the cards, but a 4-2 defeat to the Phoenix Suns in the first playoff round ended those hopes.

Despite that setback, his post-season win percentage of 66.7 is the third-best in Lakers history, behind only Pat Riley (68.5) and Paul Westhead (68.4).

However, even after having faith shown in him with a one-year contract extension in August 2021, Vogel was unable to add to those figures with a spectacular failure to reach the post-season this year.

The regression in 2020-21 had largely been put down to injury issues suffered by two of his stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and with those two back fit and after trading to bring Russell Westbrook in from the Washington Wizards, the Lakers went into the 2021-22 season as one of the favourites to go all the way.

 

While Davis and James have suffered further injury setbacks, the latter has still had one of his most productive seasons of an illustrious career, and a failure to get anything like the best out of Westbrook has also been a factor.

James averaged over 30 points per game (30.3) for the first time since 2007-08, with only Joel Embiid averaging more across the league (30.6), though it was the first season since 2009-10 in which Westbrook averaged fewer than 20 points per game (18.5).

The 33-year-old did not hold back when asked about Vogel on Monday, saying at his exit interview: "I think it's unfortunate, to be honest, because I've never had an issue with any of my coaches before.

"I'm not sure what [Vogel's] issue was with me, or I'm not sure why, but I can't really give you an answer to why we really never connected."

The writing was on the wall towards the end of the season, with the Lakers losing eight straight games to miss out on the Play-In tournament, only slightly improving their record with two final wins before the end of the regular season, and ultimately, the end of Vogel's time in LA.

Russell Westbrook feels he was never given a fair shot at delivering the best version of himself throughout a frustrating first season at the Los Angeles Lakers.

The 2017 MVP was acquired from the Washington Wizards during the offseason but struggled for form across the 2021-22 campaign.

Westbrook posted his lowest points-per-game season average for over a decade, as the Lakers missed out on the playoffs.

Speaking in his final media conference of the term, Westbrook hit out at "narratives" about his arrival, and added he felt he was forced to "prove himself" in a superstar side.

"People create narratives of me and who I am and what I do and what I believe in that are just not true," he stated.

"I'm always having to prove myself again and year after year after year, which is to me, just unfair. There's literally no reason to have to do that.

"So when I first got here, I just felt that I never was given a fair chance just to be who I needed to be, to be able to help this team."

Championship-winning coach Frank Vogel was dismissed on Monday, and Westbrook was candid on his relationship with the now-ex Lakers man, admitting he believed they struggled to click.

"I'm not sure what his issue was with me, or I'm not sure why, but I can't really give you an answer why we never really connected," he added.

"Maybe you know, that's something that he has to answer but from the get go I was feeling [I had] to prove myself to him and my capabilities and what I've been able to do for this game.

"It's unfortunate, but it's really not come out of my hands."

Russell Westbrook hopes he will get the chance to play an 82-game season alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis next year, but he added: "Nothing is promised."

Westbrook signed for the Los Angeles Lakers at the start of this season in a trade with the Washington Wizards that has since been widely criticised.

The Lakers traded away three key players in exchange for Westbrook and his huge contract, which contains a staggering $47.1million player option for 2022-23.

Having also given up their draft picks for the coming seasons in acquiring Davis, the Lakers may have little option but to run it back with the core of a team who have missed out on the postseason this year.

For all the Lakers' problems – their elimination confirmed by Tuesday's defeat to the Phoenix Suns – Westbrook hopes that will be the case.

He has played only 21 games alongside both James and Davis this season, with each suffering from injury troubles.

"That's the plan, but nothing is promised," Westbrook said. "You've got to take one thing at a time each day and play the cards you're dealt.

"Yes, we want to be able to see what that looks like, what that entails over the course of an 82-game season.

"But we're not sure if that's guaranteed, either. I just hope that we have a chance to be able to do something in the future."

Westbrook described the season as "obviously disappointing on many levels" and said "so many different things" had gone wrong.

However, he added: "It's a situation that I was just blessed to be able to be in.

"I learned a lot about a lot of different things within myself. I was able to just stay real faithful and true to what I believe in, regardless of what was ever thrown our way, my way. We continued to fight through it regardless of results.

"I'm covered. What I mean by that is I am super blessed and grateful. Regardless of whatever is thrown my way, I'm covered by the protection of faith. Whatever is thrown my way, I can always prevail and get through it."

Head coach Frank Vogel added: "I'm extremely disappointed, disappointed for our fan base, disappointed for the Buss family, who gave us all this opportunity.

"We want to play our part in bringing success to Laker basketball, and we fell short.

"We were eliminated tonight, but I can say it's not been due to a lack of effort. We have all put in the work, our guys stayed fighting right until the end, we brought integrity to the process; we just fell short through a disjointed season."

Vogel also pointed to the Lakers' injuries, suggesting they were the main difference between this season and the team's title-winning campaign of 2019-20.

"It's just a different team," he said. "Without getting into a lot of the details why, that was a very different team than we have this year.

"I would say if LeBron and AD played 15 games together that year, we would have had a similar year to what we're having right now."

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will be missing from the NBA playoffs.

Defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday combined with a win elsewhere for the San Antonio Spurs meant the Lakers can no longer reach even the play-in tournament.

It is less than two years since the Lakers won the title in the 'bubble', but that championship was followed by one mishap after another, leading to this painful season.

Stats Perform seeks to break down where it all went wrong.

Ageing LeBron limited

This could and perhaps should have been remembered as a great year for James, who has scored 30.3 points per game. At 37, he is on course to become the oldest player ever to win the scoring title – a mantle he will take from the great Michael Jordan.

However, for a second straight year, injuries have limited James' involvement.

Already with more than 63,000 minutes in his legs across the regular season and playoffs, James has continued to push himself to try to save the Lakers' season. He has played 37.2 minutes per game – his most in five years, the most of any Laker and the third-most in the entire league. Again, he is 37. Ultimately, unsurprisingly, this has meant more wear and tear, with James playing in just 56 games.

Although James has scored more than 35 points in each of his past five games – a streak bettered only by DeMar DeRozan (eight) this season – he has also missed five games in that span. The Lakers have lost all five.

AD also absent again

Given James' age, it was to be expected his body might start to let him down. That he needed to play so many minutes when he was available, though, was due to injury issues for Anthony Davis – eight years his junior.

Davis was outstanding in helping James to win a title in their first season together in 2019-20 but has played only 76 games since across two regular seasons. After an Achilles strain hampered his 2020-21 campaign, Davis has missed time this year with knee and foot injuries. He played on Tuesday but revealed his foot was "a little more sore than normal" and had "swollen up a bit".

Whether Davis can ever get back to playing a full 82-game season remains to be seen, for he has appeared more cumbersome than in years past even when he has been available, having bulked up coming into this year. That is evident in the numbers, too, with Davis shooting a career-high 73.5 per cent at the rim but just 18.6 per cent from three-point range.

Derailed by Russ trade

Of course, even with James and Davis kept on the sideline for periods of the 2020-21 season, the Lakers still made the play-in tournament and then the playoffs. However, the Lakers then allowed almost their entire supporting cast to leave.

Their four most-used players in terms of minutes in 2020-21 departed, including three of them in an ill-fated trade for Russell Westbrook. On his fourth team in four years, there was hope Westbrook could form a 'big three' with James and Davis – "our goal was to win a championship," Davis said on Tuesday – yet the trio have played just 21 games together.

And Westbrook has been far less effective than the men he replaced in carrying the team in the absence of the Lakers' superstar duo. LA are 6-17 when Westbrook plays but James does not.

Having averaged a triple-double in four of his prior five seasons, Westbrook is down to 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists. One of 10 triples this year came in perhaps the worst individual performance of the campaign, in which Westbrook also had a league-high 10 turnovers and was ejected against former team the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What next?

"Who knows?" That was Davis' response after the Suns loss. The Lakers have very little room to manoeuvre in this coming offseason, even if James, Davis and Westbrook can each rediscover form and fitness – highly unlikely in itself.

As part of the deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, the Lakers traded away an unprotected first-round pick in 2022, a potential first-round pick swap in 2023 and either their 2024 or 2025 first-round pick. The 2022 pick is sure to be a big loss following this season, while the Lakers would have to turn their fortunes around dramatically for the subsequent picks not to also represent significant assets.

And yet the Lakers' cap situation is arguably even worse, headlined by Westbrook's player option for a staggering $47.1million in 2022-23. Only a league-low seven players are signed for next year, yet the team are already above the luxury tax threshold.

It is no secret James and Davis were hugely influential in constructing this roster, but whether the extortionate cost was worth it for a single title is up for debate. Another championship surely will not follow for some time.

Anthony Davis still believes the Los Angeles Lakers could have won the NBA title this season if not for injury.

Defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday combined with a win elsewhere for the San Antonio Spurs meant the Lakers can no longer reach even the play-in tournament.

It is a remarkable fall from grace for a team who were champions less than two years ago, although both Davis and LeBron James have struggled with injuries.

Davis has played only 40 games following knee and foot injuries, while James has been limited to 56 as he has attempted to overcome an ankle sprain.

James was absent as the Lakers' playoff hopes were ended against the Suns, with Davis on the floor but acknowledging his foot was "a little more sore than normal" and had "swollen up a bit".

"We haven't had the chance to have our full team, with myself out, LB out, other guys," Davis said. "It's the most disappointing thing. I'm not sure how good we could have been.

"For myself personally, it's two unfortunate injuries that kept me out for a while, a significant part of the season.

"I was one of the leaders on the team, especially on the defensive end of the floor. When guys needed me most, I wasn't able to be out there.

"For me, for our team, for our organisation, we've got to recap now and see what's next."

Considering what that might mean for next season, Davis said: "Who knows?"

He added: "We've got to recap the season, what worked, what didn't work and go from there. I truly think we could have done something special if Bron and myself, mainly me, were healthy for the entire season.

"I think you would love to see, the world would love to see, we would love to see what this team could be if we were healthy for the full 82."

The Lakers' trade for Russell Westbrook has been widely criticised, with the point guard's return of 18.5 points per game his lowest since 2009-10.

Even when the Lakers had Davis, James and Westbrook all in the lineup, their record was a relatively mediocre 11-10.

However, Davis believes they would have improved with time, explaining: "Our goal was to win a championship. We had the pieces, but injuries got in the way of that. That was the difference in our season.

"Even though we lost games where all of us were on the floor – me, Bron, Russ – I think we're three great players and we would have figured it out if we logged more minutes together.

"We weren't able to do that, which makes it tough to be able to compete for a championship."

However, team-mate Carmelo Anthony, while agreeing with Davis' assessment of the team's potential, refused to point to injuries as an excuse.

"We just didn't get it done," he said. "We had the tools. Some things were out of our control – some things we could control, some things we couldn't.

"It's nothing else more than we didn't get it done. You can't make excuses about it. We just didn't get it done."

Giannis Antetokounmpo came up with a game-winning block on Joel Embiid after scoring 40 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' crucial 118-116 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo rose to block Embiid's attempt to level the scores with less than two seconds left on the clock, with head coach Mike Budenholzer labelling it "special".

The Greek superstar finished with 40 points on 66 per cent shooting with 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

The Bucks win is significant in the race for Eastern Conference seeds, moving Milwaukee (47-28) into second behind the Miami Heat (48-28), while the 76ers (46-29) slip to fourth.

Khris Middleton added 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Jrue Holiday contributed 18 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.

Embiid finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, while James Harden had 32 points making four-of-10 from beyond the arc, with five rebounds and nine assists.

 

George returns in Clippers comeback win

Paul George marked his first game since December 22 with 34 points including six three-pointers as the Los Angeles Clippers fought back from 25 points down to win 121-115 over the Utah Jazz who have lost five in a row. The Clippers finished the game on a 34-12 run.

Kevin Durant scored 41 points with 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks while Kyrie Irving managed 24 points in his second home appearance as the Brooklyn Nets won 130-123 over the Detroit Pistons.

The Chicago Bulls found some form after winning only four of their past 15 games with an important 107-94 win over the Washington Wizards led by DeMar DeRozan with 32 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

 

Lakers slide continues

The Los Angeles Lakers' struggles continued with a heavy 128-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks as Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. The Mavs led by as much as 37 points. The Lakers, who were without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are 31-44 and slip to 11th out of the west's play-in spots.

The stars will be out on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena when the Philadelphia 76ers roll into town to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.

After sitting out the second leg of Monday's back-to-back against the Miami Heat, superstar duo Joel Embiid and James Harden should be back in the line-up for the 44-27 76ers as they jostle with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference two seed.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are fighting to keep their head above water, with their 31-41 record leaving them five games behind the eight seed Los Angeles Clippers as they prepare for the impending play-in tournament.

The Sixers are in the midst of a stylistic metamorphosis since the arrival of Harden at the All-Star break, completely re-shaping their offensive profile.

 

As was expected, the 76ers' free-throw rate (FTR) skyrocketed when it paired arguably the two greatest shooting-foul magnets of this generation.

Their 0.259 FTR – which means Philadelphia was shooting free throws on nearly 26 per cent of their possessions prior to Harden's arrival – was good for fourth in the NBA, with the Houston Rockets leading that category at 0.291.

While league-wide FTR is significantly up since the All-Star break, primarily due to it being artificially low to start the season as referees cracked down on players milking free throws, the 76ers have taken it to the extreme, leading the league at 0.374 following Harden's arrival – with only Philly and the New York Knicks (0.363) above third-placed Denver's 0.310.

No team has posted a FTR higher than 0.374 since Harden and Dwight Howard's 2013-14 Houston Rockets (0.386)

To say the 76ers have relied on free throws to sustain their scoring production is an understatement – since the trade, their 41.4 points in the paint per 100 possessions is the worst in the league, all while the offense revolves around a seven-foot-two behemoth in Embiid.

As has been the case with Harden's teams, specifically during his tenure in Houston, his offenses will live and die with free throws and three-pointers, with the 76ers upping their long-range attempts from 31.7 per 100 possessions to 35.6, moving from 26th in the league up to 11th.

It is irrefutable that Harden has changed this offense but, while Philadelphia's offensive efficiency has increased from 111 points per 100 possessions up to 115.4, their attack remains the 14th-best as league-wide efficiency is up across the board due to shooting fouls increasing and teams finding their rhythm.

On the other side, the Lakers are learning to live without injured centrepiece Anthony Davis, and the numbers have not been pretty on both ends.

Lacking a true interior presence since the All-Star break, the Lakers' FTR has plummeted from eighth in the league (0.251) to 26th (0.239), and their once-vaunted defense has become one of the league's worst.

As well as being 27th in overall defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, the Lakers are the league's second-worst team when it comes to allowing points in the paint.

So what happens when a movable object – the Lakers' paint defence – meets a stoppable force – Philadelphia's paint scoring?
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS 

Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid

While Harden is a former MVP, Embiid is the favourite for this year's award, and his level of play is usually the deciding factor in whether the 76ers win or lose.

In wins this season, Embiid is averaging 31.7 points and 4.6 assists on 51 per cent shooting from the field, with those numbers dropping to 25.9 points and 3.7 assists on 43 per cent shooting in losses.

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Simply put, since the All-Star break, the Lakers only win when James dominates.

In that period, the Lakers have a record of 4-9 when James plays, with the four-time champion averaging 45 points, 9.3 rebounds and seven assists in the four wins.


KEY BATTLE – Who wants to run?

A glaring weakness of both teams since the All-Star break has been transition defense, with the Lakers dead last, allowing 18.7 fastbreak points per 100 possessions.

The 76ers have not been much better, coming in at 28th, allowing 16.6 per 100 possessions.

Philadelphia have been criticised for being slow, while the Lakers have been criticised for being old, but which team is going to take advantage?

The Lakers appear more equipped to play an up-tempo style, coming in at fifth in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (14.9), and it is worth noting that no player has more fastbreak dunks this season than LeBron James' 36.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The 76ers won this season's only meeting, coming away with a 105-87 home win in a January game where Anthony Davis played, and played well for the Lakers in the critical absence of James.

Philadelphia won both meetings in the 2020-21 season, with the Lakers' last triumph coming on March 3, 2020.

Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kevin Durant has showered praise on upcoming opponent Ja Morant comparing him to Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.

The Nets take on Morant's Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, with Durant describing the first-time All-Star as a combination of Jordan, Iverson, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.

Morant has enjoyed a breakout year after being pick two in the 2019 NBA Draft and leading the Grizzlies to the playoffs last season.

The 22-year-old Memphis guard is averaging 27.6 points up from 19.1 points in the 2020-21 season along with 5.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.2 steals this season for the playoffs-bound Grizzlies who have a 49-23 record.

"He's a combination of players, I feel," Durant told reporters after the Nets' 114-106 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday.

"I think the greatest players in our game can transform into anybody at any given point, and I think Ja is on the way to that. I mean when he's playing I see like two or three or four different hall-of-famers in his game.

"From Iverson, he might make a Jordan-like lay-up, he might run down the court like a Westbrook or a D-Rose. His float game is up there with some of the best that's ever played.

"I don't wanna gas him up too much since we're playing against him, but I think the sky is the limit for him. His future is obviously bright, and he makes everybody better playing against him."

On the Grizzlies, Durant added: "When you got a future Hall of Famer at the head of the snake, it just makes everybody better."

Durant scored 37 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in Monday's win as the Nets improved to 38-34.

The Nets forward surpassed close friend Jerry West (25,192 points) into 22nd on the NBA's all-time scoring charts with his 37-point haul on Monday.

"Winning the championship with Jerry, having conversations with him, knowing the history of who he is, he helped kickstart the NBA basically, it's an honour," Durant said.

"He's a legend in the game. He's almost like the godfather of our sport. Good to see him back around our game but it's even better to pass him. He's one of the all-time great players in this league."

Durant moves to 25,213 points, with Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller next above him on 25,279 points.

Frank Vogel was keen to take the time to acknowledge LeBron James' achievement in passing Karl Malone despite the Los Angeles Lakers' 127-119 defeat to the Washington Wizards.

With 38 points against the Wizards, James moved ahead of Malone (36,928) onto 36,947 for his career, now trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) all-time.

For James, who has played 197 games fewer than Abdul-Jabbar, this was a 31st 30-point game of the season – behind only Joel Embiid (33).

Lakers team-mate Russell Westbrook described this latest accomplishment as "an amazing feat to witness", while Carmelo Anthony said he was "still in awe" of James.

James insisted he could not "separate" his own performance from the defeat – "all I care about is wins and losses," he explained – but that was not a stance Vogel agreed with.

"It's bittersweet, but I think it's important to separate it," the coach said.

"This is a moment of time that we can't get caught up in the pain of this loss and [must] recognise what an incredible feat this is for LeBron, doing it in the fashion that he did it.

"He just attacked the game tonight. He came in and was aggressive on both sides of the ball, the second night of a back-to-back, really playing with incredible energy after playing 45 minutes last night.

"It was just a signature performance in a game where he passes one of the greats and becomes the second all-time leading scorer in the history of the game.

"It's really impressive, and I'm super happy for him. It's awesome."

For a player so focused on results, this has been a tough season for James, with the loss leaving the Lakers just half a game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans in ninth in the West at 30-41.

This is despite James' 29.8 points per game – the third-highest mark of his career and highest since 2007-08.

"It's just an incredible game, an incredible season, and I don't know where we'd be without him," Vogel said.

Happily for the Lakers, as they look set for the play-in game, Vogel believes James is still getting better.

"This year's no different. The fact that it's later in his career and he's still doing it at this level is different," he added.

"Obviously, the way he's continuing to evolve his game with the deep shooting, with the turnaround, fadeaway jump shot that Kobe [Bryant] and Michael [Jordan] had later in his career... He's growing as a receiver. That part is special."

Once again, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to get the job done on a night where LeBron James made history.

With James expected to pass Karl Malone for second place on the all-time regular season scoring list, the Lakers suffered a fourth-quarter collapse to lose 127-119 against the Washington Wizards.

James trailed the Utah Jazz Hall of Famer by 20 points coming into the night, passing him with 5:20 left in the second quarter on his way to 38 points (16-of-29 from the field, four-of-10 from three) with 10 rebounds and six assists.

The 37-year-old now is behind only former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time NBA scoring list with 38,387 points. James now has 36,947 career points.

The Lakers led 97-83 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, before getting out-scored 44-22 the rest of the way.

Russell Westbrook was hailed a "big-time player" by LeBron James after sinking a clutch three-pointer to force overtime in the Los Angeles' Lakers win over the Toronto Raptors.

The much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound with 0.4 seconds remaining at Scotiabank Arena and drained a triple to tie the game at 116-116.

Inspired by 36-point James, who scored 19 of those points in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Lakers claimed a 128-123 victory to snap a three-game losing streak.

Westbrook has endured a frustrating first season in Los Angeles, who lost 12 of their previous 15 games, with Friday proving to be a rare highlight for the one-time MVP.

"I was actually looking at his feet when he was getting close to the three-point line," James said of Westbrook's key intervention.

"I saw him step on the three-point line and then slide his foot back before he released it. It was big-time IQ there on his part and a big-time shot by a big-time player."

 

Westbrook registered his 10th triple-double of the season with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the Lakers picked up a first road win in 12 attempts.

The 33-year-old now has 1,241 points for the season, which is second only to James (1,542) among Lakers players.

He has 23,098 across his career, meanwhile, and the former Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards point guard has never lost faith in his own ability.

Asked how he has managed to cope with criticism aimed his way this season, Westbrook told reporters: "I got 23,000 points... How about that?
 
"Throughout this whole process, throughout the year, ups and downs, the good and the bad, I lean so much on my faith.

"It's very important that I stay faithful and truthful to that because eventually it will all work out, and nights like tonight was the reason why I stay just true to my faith."

With his 36 points on Friday, James is 20 away from passing Karl Malone as the second-highest points scorer in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the way with 38,387.

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Russell Westbrook responded to on-court trash talk during the Los Angeles Lakers' 124-104 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves claiming none of his opponents have "done anything in this league".

Westbrook managed 15 points on five-of-12 shooting along with four rebounds and five assists in the defeat, while LeBron James was kept to 19 points shooting at 38 percent from the field.

The Lakers point guard appeared to be on the wrong end of trash talk from Timberwolves opponent Patrick Beverley. The pair have a chequered history dating back to the 2013 Playoffs, where the then-Oklahoma City guard accused Beverley of a dirty play resulting in Westbrook tearing his meniscus and missing the rest of the postseason.

The beef was reignited in 2019 when Westbrook made light of the Beverley's defense after a Houston Rockets game where James Harden scored 47 points when guarded by him.

Beverley clearly had not forgotten, as he was seen calling Westbrook "trash" and plugging his nose to gesture a bad smell during Wednesday's game.

"I honestly don’t pay no mind to it, maybe other guys do," Westbrook told reporters after the game. "The trash talking doesn’t bother me.

"Nobody out there has done anything in this league that would make we cock my eyes up and think 'oh they're talking mess', nope.

"That's fine, they're good, they won a game. Happy for them. We move on to the next one."

The result leaves the Lakers with a 29-40 record and in peril of missing the playoffs. Westbrook was asked whether the on-court tension could have been used to inspire the Lakers to respond.

"You've got to ask each individual," he said. "Everybody is wired differently. I can't speak for everybody else and if it gives them a rise or not."

On the trash talk, James added: "It's part of the game."

The Lakers trailed 67-46 at half-time but narrowed the gap in the fourth quarter, before the Timberwolves went on a decisive 17-4 run.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel bemoaned bad luck but also "terrible calls" by the referees during that stretch.

"They made three threes, one bounced up to the ceiling and bounced right through. We can't get a bounce," Vogel said.

"We had two questionable calls in the fourth quarter of a close game, with Bron's travel and Bron's illegal screen. Terrible calls. If you're going to call that, call it throughout the whole game. Very frustrating."

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