Westbrook says back problems in part because he’s not used “to sitting down for long stretches”

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers
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Russell Westbrook was out last Wednesday when the Lakers lost to essentially a G-League version of the Trail Blazers due to lower back tightness. Westbrook is questionable for Saturday’s nationally televised game against Stephen Curry and the Warriors for the same reason.

When asked by reporters Friday what led to the back issues, Westbrook pointed to him being benched more recently.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel has sat Westbrook more and more in clutch moments recently. Against the Bucks last Tuesday, Westbrook did not re-enter the game after leaving midway through the third quarter (the Lakers were already down 24 at the time, although they cut the lead to 10 at one point and Westbrook was not put back in the game). Westbrook sat the entire overtime against the Knicks on Feb. 5 (a Lakers win). There are other instances, and Westbrook has made it clear that being benched in clutch minutes does not make him happy. Here is his quote after the Bucks game, when asked what he said to LeBron and Davis on the bench:

“I told [LeBron James and Anthony Davis] I wished I could help them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the game to be able to help them, and that’s why I came here: To help them out. So unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do that for them, but that’s not my call.”  

Vogel is sitting Westbrook for a reason: In the Lakers’ last nine clutch games (within five points in the final five minutes), Westbrook has a -15.8 net rating in those minutes. For comparison, LeBron has a -5.9 net rating in those minutes and Davis is +9.5 (both of them have played in fewer of those clutch minutes due to injuries).

Westbrook is frustrated. LeBron is frustrated. Everyone around the Lakers is frustrated, and after the Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline, they will have to figure out how to have internal improvement to turn things around. That means figuring out how to better close games, either with or without Westbrook.