The Los Angeles Lakers finally got their first win of the 2022-23 season against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, picking up a 121-110 victory. This result was much needed for the Lakers, as they were the last team in the league to win their first game of the season. But that surely doesn't matter now, and the Lakers will be intent on proving that their slow start to the season was nothing more than an unfortunate cold stretch to open their new campaign.
Westbrook is embracing his new role coming off the bench for the Lakers
One of the more notable parts of this game was that Russell Westbrook came off the bench for the second straight game, which is something the Lakers had been toying with all season long. Westbrook came off the bench in L.A.'s most recent loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and didn't play great, but he had arguably his best game of the season (18 PTS, 8 REB, 8 AST, 50% FG) in his second game in his new role for the Lakers.
It took a bit of convincing, but Lakers first-year head coach Darvin Ham may have finally pulled off the move that will help Los Angeles turn things around. Ham implored Westbrook to trust him and his vision when he suggested bringing him off the bench, and he became emotional when discussing Westbrook getting cheers from the home crowd due to his strong performance for the Lakers in their first win of the season.
"I told him 'You're gonna thrive, man, just trust me.' I always told him 'you're sacrifice, man, a player of your magnitude, for you to do this, it's gonna send waves, it's gonna help our team.' You can't look at it, like, everybody gets so caught up in the starting lineup. If I remember correctly, he finished the game, right?" - Darvin Ham
Ham may have fixed the Los Angeles Lakers
Ham ended up giving a two-minute response on Westbrook coming off the bench for the Lakers, highlighting just how important this move is for Los Angeles. Ham mentioned how Westbrook is tailor-made for this role, and he may be right. Playing alongside LeBron James the entire game doesn't help the Lakers because they are both ball-dominant. Allowing Westbrook to control the game off the bench gets him going so that he can help the team close out games in the fourth quarter.
It worked like a charm against the Nuggets, and given how unsuccessful the Lakers have been otherwise this season, they will likely continue to implement this lineup for quite some time. Ham is right in saying it requires a big sacrifice for Westbrook, but as long as it leads to wins, it shouldn't matter when or where Westbrook gets used.
Ham is invested in trying to find some solutions to the Lakers' biggest problems, and rather than giving up on Westbrook, he's working on helping him find his role with L.A. He may have finally figured it out, and it will be interesting to see whether Westbrook's continued usage off the bench will lead to a quick turnaround for the Lakers over the next few games.