In what is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence, the Los Angeles Lakers were blown out on Wednesday. This time, it was the Minnesota Timberwolves dominating them in a 124-104 victory, and Lakers guard Russell Westbrook didn’t take kindly to their attitude during the thrashing. The Timberwolves were seen talking quite a bit of trash to the Lakers, and while Westbrook denied that it was directed his way, he did go out of his way to remind the Timberwolves of where he perceives them in the league’s pecking order.
“I honestly don’t pay no mind to it. Maybe other guys (do). “They weren’t talking to me. They were talking to individual guys, but the trash talking doesn’t bother me none. Nobody over there has done anything in this league,” Westbrook said while stifling a laugh. “It’s fine. They’re good. They won a game, happy for them, (I’ll) move on to the next one. That’s that.”
Most of this quote was fairly innocuous, but to suggest that Minnesota’s players somehow lack the right to talk trash because of his perception of their achievements in the NBA shows a startling lack of self-awareness. The Timberwolves have won 12 more games than the Lakers. The two teams have played four times and the Timberwolves have outscored the Lakers by 57 points in those matchups. Right now, the Timberwolves are a significantly better team than the Lakers are. Westbrook doesn’t acknowledge that. Instead, he hangs on to his past accolades for dear life. It’s a sensible standard on his part. Averaging career-worst statistics on a team well below .500 gives him little right to talk trash himself. The past is all he really has at this stage of his career.
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Westbrook has spent the season clinging to the idea that his former MVP status excuses him from the sort of dirty work the Lakers would need him to commit to in order to win. He continues to take the wrong shots and turn the ball over. His defensive effort is as limited as ever, and he’s done little to grow as an off-ball scorer on a team that already employs LeBron James. When the Lakers held him accountable for these shortcomings by benching him late in a few fourth quarters, he again leaned on his past accomplishments. “I don’t have to hit a benchmark. Or I shouldn’t have to,” Westbrook said in February. “I earned the right to be in closing lineups. I mean, numbers will tell you. I don’t have to explain that.”
No member of the Timberwolves has achieved as much in the NBA individually as Westbrook. Maybe that’s part of what has made them so successful this season. The team has plenty of younger talent, but unlike the Lakers, their players have made a conscious effort to work on their shortcomings. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell are both former All-Stars on max contracts. They’re both having the best defensive seasons of their career. They’ve committed to winning, and right now, that’s more meaningful than anything Westbrook is doing in what are increasingly looking like his final few years in the NBA.