Sunday, January 23, 2022

Lakers’ Russell Westbrook has first game without a turnover since 2016 in win over Kings

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There’s never a dull moment where Russell Westbrook is concerned. On Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the enigmatic point guard turned the ball over seven times in the first half alone and nine times in total, declaring afterward that he was “allowed” to miss shots and turn the ball over. Lakers coach Frank Vogel backed him up before Tuesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, calling him a “winning player” and reminding fans that nobody makes all of their shots or commits zero turnovers.

Well … let’s fast-forward a few hours. The Lakers have defeated the Sacramento Kings 122-114, and the box score reveals that Westbrook literally committed zero turnovers. If this sounds unusual to you, well, it should. It was the first game Westbrook played without committing a turnover since March 14, 2016. He has therefore snapped a 407-game streak of committing at least one turnover. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the longest such streak turnovers started getting tracked in the 1977-78 season.

It’s not hard to figure out how Westbrook managed to snap the streak. A quick glance at the box score shows that he only posted two assists. Westbrook didn’t handle the ball as much overall in the win as he typically does because Malik Monk had one of his best games of the season. The scorching hot guard scored 24 points and was instrumental in sealing the victory in the fourth quarter. Combine his stellar outing with the standard 31 points and five assists from LeBron James as well as a bounce-back 19-point night from Talen Horton-Tucker and there just wasn’t much room for Westbrook to handle the ball.

That, of course, is not the norm. Westbrook is on this team because the Lakers want him to handle the ball. There’s nothing wrong with a primary ball-handler turning the ball over a few times. It’s a sign that they’re making ambitious plays. Not every pass is going to connect, but the best ball-handlers in basketball frequently take risks in order to maximize reward. Westbrook is risk incarnate.

But on Tuesday, he reined himself in a bit. It helped the Lakers pick up a crucial win that brought their record back above .500 at 20-19. There’s a balance to be struck here. As he said, he is allowed to turn the ball over. Just not seven times in a half. As long as he lands somewhere between that extreme and Tuesday’s, the Lakers will probably be in good shape. 

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