Lakers’ Russell Westbrook ties bench triple-double mark, aims for more

ORLANDO, Fla. — Behind thick, black frames, Russell Westbrook looked puzzled for a moment.

What memories or thoughts does Detlef Schrempf conjure up?

“Anything come to mind? No,” Westbrook said, breaking into a laugh. “Other than he played for the Sonics. That’s about it.”

Besides playing for the franchise that Westbrook used to play for (albeit in Oklahoma City, not Seattle), Schrempf also was the sole NBA record-holder for most triple-doubles off the bench.

Until Tuesday.

With 15 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds, Westbrook pulled even with Schrempf – the German who was the 1991 and 1992 NBA Sixth Man of the Year – with three bench triple-doubles. It’s a record that would barely ever come up on the radar of even the most dedicated NBA fan, certainly nowhere near as hallowed as the 197 triple-doubles Westbrook has amassed in his career, more than anyone in the history of the league.

But the 34-year-old’s ability to produce such stats as a reserve – and in a win, no less – is a marker of how far he’s come in a role he hadn’t previously played since his rookie season. Sooner or later, Westbrook is probably going to pass Schrempf, and then he might be able to set his sights on the Sixth Man award as the season goes on.

It’s unclear how happy Westbrook is in his bench role. When asked if he’s now comfortable as a sixth man, he skirted the question: “I’m a hooper. I can do anything, anytime, anywhere. Whatever’s asked of me is what I’ll do and I’ll continue doing that until further notice.”

But Coach Darvin Ham, who coaxed Westbrook into being a reserve, couldn’t be happier to see the 2017 league MVP making such an impact. Now with his 28th appearance off the bench, Westbrook seems to be at least finding a kind of rhythm.

“He could have fought it, and instead, we put our heads together and took a good, long hard look at the balance, and you have to realize that an NBA lineup has to have balance,” he said. “It’s not so much, ‘Can he start?’ or ‘His starting days are over.’ It’s not about that. It’s about him being able to bring a counterpunch, a new extra wave, a higher pace, along with some of our rotation guys.”

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Pace was a key point in Westbrook’s performance Tuesday night in a 129-110 victory over the surging Orlando Magic, against whom he was plus-18. With Orlando’s superior size, a big part of the game plan was attacking in transition, and Westbrook – aside from going 6 for 11 from the field himself, helped the Lakers edge the Magic in fast-break points (12-8).

“Just seeing him out there smiling, being happy, being able to just play his game, especially when shots are falling early,” said Troy Brown Jr., who caught three of Westbrook’s assists. “You know you’ll see him smiling and just kinda having fun. I think that’s the Russ we need.”

Ham said Westbrook’s synergy with LeBron James, especially in pick-and-roll actions, has been improving lately, helping the team cope somewhat with All-Star big man Anthony Davis sidelined by a foot injury. James said he knows that when Westbrook checks in, he must be ready to sprint.

“He’s going to give us some great pace,” James said. “He’s going to push the tempo because of his ability to rebound and go and push it. So, I know when I’m out on the floor with him, I just got to run. When he gets the rebound, he gets on the break, I got to run with him.”

.@russwest44 chats with @LakersReporter after recording his third triple-double off the bench this season.

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) December 28, 2022

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