Russell Westbrook pretended to rock a baby to sleep after bullying his way to the rim for a basket. He howled after hitting LeBron James on a backdoor cut.
And when Troy Brown Jr. hit a three-pointer early in the third quarter, Westbrook put his hands high in the air — while he pedaled on a stationary bike behind the team’s bench.
For the first time since Nov. 26, 2008, Westbrook came off the bench, fulfilling coach Darvin Ham’s vision that the former MVP would be freer captaining the team’s bench unit.
And as much as he has this season, Westbrook actually looked like Westbrook, the high-speed dynamo the Lakers have sparsely seen since acquiring him.
“That’s his super-power, orchestrating, dictating pace,” Ham said of Westbrook. “I think he’s going to thrive in that role.”
But even with one big thing going right, another went wrong, the Lakers forced to play without Anthony Davis in a 111-102 loss to Minnesota.
It’s the team’s first 0-5 start since 2014-15 when the Lakers finished 21-61.
James scored 28 points and Westbrook had 18, but the Lakers committed 22 turnovers (five by Westbrook) leading to 25 Minnesota points.
“The biggest thing for me, the most glaring stat was the turnovers,” Ham said with a bit of a sigh. “It’s the turnovers.”
Anthony Edwards had 29 points, Rudy Gobert had 22 points and 21 rebounds and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 21, 14 coming in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers plan to move forward with Westbrook coming off the bench, a role Ham says he believes he’ll “thrive” in.
“From day one, I mentioned I’m the guy that’s willing to do whatever for the team,” Westbrook said. “I’ll sacrifice whatever it is that needs to be sacrificed — parts of my game that I’ve done for years to accommodate whatever it is that the coach needs me to do, and I’ll continue to do that.”
Davis was questionable to play Friday morning and participated in the team’s shootaround, but his lingering lower back pain acted up and knocked him out of the lineup for the first time this season.
“Well you know the back is a tricky thing. It felt good this morning when he woke up, and then went from activity to inactivity this afternoon,” Ham said before the game. “ Albeit this is the fifth game and obviously you’re gonna need him in a major way to be healthy — so ‘Why risk it?’ was our thought process.”
Davis, who said it was his goal to play all 82 games this season, said his back started bothering him in training camp after the team took a bus to and from the Pechanga Resort in Temecula, 115 miles from the team’s practice facility in El Segundo.
James and Westbrook said Davis needs to put his health ahead of any 82-game goals.
“He has to do what’s best for his body and his mind,” James said. “If his mind is gone, then everything else will fall to the wayside. So, he has to trust himself. Yes, he wants to play every game. Yes, he wants to be out there for our team. But he’s had a lot of bumps and bruises over the last few years, so he has to trust himself, trust his staff and not put his body in harm’s way.
The Lakers hope the rest will allow Davis to heal enough to play Sunday against Denver in Los Angeles.
“He has the sentiments of not wanting to let the team down, of always wanting to be available for the team,” Ham said. “But like I told him, ‘Don’t try to be a hero. We’re all human. … Every day just try to put your best foot forward.’ ”
Without Davis, the Lakers used Brown, Damian Jones and Wenyen Gabriel to try to match up with the Timberwolves’ frontcourt.
Brown scored 12 points, making four of six shots from three. Austin Reaves also made two of three from deep, but the rest of the Lakers shot just three of 20, with James and Westbrook combining to shoot two of 10.
“I’m actually not mad with how we played tonight. Our energy was in the right direction,” Westbrook said. “And I think it’s important to get AD back and get guys healthy. But until then, nobody’s gonna feel sorry for us. We gotta find a way to compete and get a win.”
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