LeBron James’ Latest Criticism of the Lakers Places Significant Pressure on Russell Westbrook

All goodwill the Los Angeles Lakers earned from Tuesday’s victory was dead and buried just 24 hours later. The Lakers fell 104-99 to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, dropping them to a paltry 17-19. After the game, LeBron James voiced a specific criticism aimed at himself and the rest of the team. But if there’s one person who really needed to hear the King’s message, it’s star teammate Russell Westbrook.

LeBron James criticizes the Lakers for careless turnovers

Since Anthony Davis suffered a knee sprain on December 17, LeBron has turned back the clock. The 37-year-old scored 37 points on Wednesday, his sixth straight contest with 30 or more points. However, his individual greatness hasn’t resulted in team success, as LA has gone just 1-5 during that stretch.

In the five-point loss to Memphis, the Lakers had 18 turnovers to their opponent’s 12. James, who had five of the 18, expressed his frustration with the number of times LA is needlessly giving away the basketball.

“We understand that we have a lot of attackers,” James explained after the game to ESPN. “But the careless turnovers where literally you just turn the ball over, there’s no pressure or reason for it. Those are the ones that get us in trouble.”

James, now in his 19th season, was far from blameless in regards to the turnover issues. His biggest mistake came when he threw the ball to a defender down three with 6.7 seconds left in regulation.

“The one thing I think probably hurt us the most down the stretch was the turnovers,” acting head coach David Fizdale added. “And the one more play, where [we failed to execute] the easy play to make one more pass to the open man.”

Russell Westbrook should take note of LeBron’s criticism

No one screams “careless turnovers” quite like Westbrook. The maligned point guard had five giveaways of his own against the Grizzlies, right in line with the 4.7 he averages per game. The day before, Westbrook had seven turnovers in a win over the Rockets.

Through 36 games, Westbrook has a dismal 168 turnovers. That’s 31 more than James Harden, who’s second on the list, and 41 more than third-place Trae Young. Not great for a player who publicly scoffed at preseason concerns regarding excessive turnovers.

High turnovers are nothing new for Russ, who’s on pace to lead the league for the fifth time. But more often than not, Westbrook’s careless giveaways are leading to Laker losses.

Westbrook has had five or more turnovers 16 times, close to half of LA’s 36 contests. In those games, the Lakers are 7-9. Save for a 21-point blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers are only winning those games by an average of six points. In the nine losses, they’re losing by an average of 13.5. In other words, LA has been unable to regain any momentum lost by Westbrook’s carelessness with the basketball.

When LeBron calls out the team for making boneheaded turnovers, Westbrook should be the first one listening.

The Los Angeles Lakers don’t have an obvious solution to remedy Westbrook’s turnover issues

There’s a saying about how you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. In that same realm, you can’t suddenly transform a turnover-prone, 33-year-old point guard into an efficient player who makes minimal mistakes.

Basically, the Westbrook the Lakers are getting now is the same one they’re always going to get.

LA has made no indication of taking Russ out of the starting lineup, even though some have previously suggested doing so. And it makes even less sense now considering Davis’ injury will keep him on the shelf for several more weeks. But what else can the Lakers do? Given their 1-5 record since AD went out, the team can only do so much as currently constructed.

To make matters worse, the Lakers look like they’re tied to Westbrook for at least the remainder of this season, if not longer. Despite reports of the front office having internal discussions about trading the former MVP, Russ’ $44 million salary this year and $47 million player option next year aren’t exactly numbers teams are salivating to add to the payroll.

There’s a good chance LeBron and the Lakers are stuck with Westbrook and all the baggage he comes with. And time is quickly running out to salvage this disappointing season.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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