NBA

3-point shooting sinks Lakers again; Russell Westbrook benched late

3-point shooting sinks Lakers again;  Russell Westbrook benched late
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LOS ANGELES — Lakers coach Darvin Ham benched Russell Westbrook for the final three possessions of LA’s 106-104 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, and Ham was unflinching when asked if he’d have to manage any fallout with the point guard from his decision.

« We don’t have time for feelings or people being in their feelings. Like, we’re trying to turn this thing around, » Ham said after the Blazers’ win dropped the Lakers to 0-3 on the season. « For one person to be in their feelings about when and where and how they should be in the game, I don’t have any time for that. »

Westbrook, who finished with 10 points on 4-for-15 shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and zero turnovers, had been subbed back into the game by Ham with 4:42 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers leading by eight. Over the next four and a half minutes, Portland outscored LA by 10 before Ham pulled Westbrook with 12.4 seconds left.

LA struggled as a team down the stretch, shooting 3-for-9 overall and 0-for-4 from 3 — contributing to a 6-for-33 day from the outside (18.2%) that brought the Lakers’ season total to 25-for-118 on 3-pointers.

One of those misses came from Westbrook with 27.3 seconds remaining in the game and 18 seconds left on the shot clock. With LA holding a 102-101 lead, he missed a 15-foot pull-up jumper that Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic almost invited him to shoot by giving him space with his defense.

« Putting him on Russ, we were just going to kind of play off of Russ in that moment, » Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said of the adjustment to have Nurkic guard Westbrook.

Westbrook, when asked about the shot, said he was trying to execute a two-for-one — a strategy to try to secure two offensive possessions before a quarter ends by seeking a scoring opportunity early in the shot clock on the first one. Ham said he had more of a problem with Westbrook’s shot location than his strategy.

« I just wish we would’ve attacked the rim directly, » Ham said. « That’s the one shot that teams want you to take and want to give up — long 2s, contested 2s, what have you. And with his ability to explode and get to the basket still being at a high level, I wish he would ‘ve done that. Especially with Nurkic standing back there with five fouls. »

Ham added: « Shot selection is something we have to work on. »

LeBron James, who led LA with 31 points but missed a potential game-tying jumper at the buzzer, was asked about his philosophy on going for a two-for-one when you have the lead, instead of playing from behind.

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« I feel like this is an interview of trying to set me up to say something, » James said. « I can tell that you guys are in the whole Russell Westbrook category right now. I don’t like to lose. I hate to lose at anything. I don’t care what happens throughout the course of my season or throughout the course of my career, I hate to lose. And especially the way we had this game. But give credit to Portland.

« You guys can write about Russ and all the things you want to try to talk about Russ, but I’m not up here to do that. I won’t do it. I’ve said it over and over. That is not my [M.O.]. That’s not who I am. »

However, when answering a question later in his news conference about how he seeks to manipulate opposing defenses, James’ response was telling.

« I always have time and score and what’s going on and how the defense has been playing me throughout the course of the game, it’s always in my head, » James said. « I’m not out there just running around, that’s for sure. »

The game wasted a strong 22-point, 10-rebound, 6-block performance by Anthony Davis.

« Defense has been really good … the shot-making has not, » a visibly frustrated Davis said. « That’s the big difference. »

James said the team’s mood following the loss was « s—ty, » which is to be expected.

« If you’re around a group of guys that are excited after a loss, then that’s the worst business that you can be in. So that’s the mood right now. But I’ll leave my frustration and what I have here. Once I drive out the tunnel, I’m going to leave it here. »

LA continues its early-season schedule with a two-game trip against the Denver Nuggets (2-1) on Wednesday and the Minnesota Timberwolves (1-1) on Friday.

« There’s no way we’re supposed to lose this game, » Davis said. « That’s where my frustration comes from. »

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