After benching Russell Westbrook in the final minutes of Wednesday's loss to the Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel had some high praise for the veteran point guard following his performance in Friday's 116-105 win over the Orlando Magic at Amway Center.
Vogel told reporters that Westbrook "played a hell of a game" and brought "pure energy" to the team. Vogel added that the 33-year-old is a "high-character guy" and took being benched against the Pacers well.
Westbrook finished Friday's game with 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the floor, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
LeBron James also commented on Westbrook's performance.
"I think he let last game go and was focused for this game, focused on the new game, new trip. And I thought, like I said, he's the head of the snake when it comes to being our point guard. He puts us in position. His attack is great."
Spectrum SportsNet @SpectrumSN
.<a href="https://twitter.com/KingJames?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KingJames</a> (29 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST) reflects on Russell Westbrook and Stanley Johnson's contributions in tonight's 116-105 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LakeShow?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LakeShow</a> win. <a href="https://t.co/rB5FEN79wT">pic.twitter.com/rB5FEN79wT</a>
In an interview with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski after Wednesday's loss to the Pacers, Westbrook said he was disappointed about being benched. Despite the benching, he acknowledged that he remains focused on how to "figure s--t out and do what's best for our team to win in the long run."
"Ultimately, you have to be OK when s--- doesn't go well, and I'm OK. I've done everything that's been asked of me here, and I'll continue to do so and ride this out as long as we can toward our ultimate goal -- and that's to win a championship.
"We obviously haven't been fully healthy, but I'm committed to making this thing work. The communication is there with everybody in the organization to make this thing work, to make this team we all want it to be in the future.
"I have accepted everything that has been asked of me and tried to do it to the best of my ability. I'm not the ultimate decision-maker of if it's working -- or if it's not working. I'm OK with sacrificing some of the things that I've been able to do in this game to win, because that's the most important part of this game. I've done everything they've asked me to do to this point."
Westbrook, who is playing for his fourth team in the last four seasons, has been struggling this year. Entering Friday's game, the two-time scoring champion was averaging 18.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists while shooting 43.3 percent from the floor and 30.4 percent from deep. His points per game are his lowest average since his second season in the league more than a decade ago.
Amid his struggles, Westbrook has been mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the Feb. 10 deadline, with the most recent news involving the Houston Rockets. According to NBA insider Marc Stein, the Rockets would be open to trading John Wall in exchange for Westbrook if the Lakers "incentivized the trade with sufficient draft compensation."
Wall hasn't played at all for Houston this season after the two sides reached a mutual agreement in September for him to remain sidelined while the franchise worked to find a trade partner.
Wall and Westbrook are both making roughly $44 million this season and have player options for around $47 million next season.
While the Lakers would likely listen to deals for Westbrook, his performance Friday is something the team can build off moving forward. And it sounds like he's still setting the bar high, telling Wojnarowski he wants to "get better as the season goes on" and "take responsibility for the things I'm doing and how I'm making those around me better."
The Lakers moved to 23-23 with Friday's win over the Magic. If Westbrook can find his footing by the time Anthony Davis returns from a sprained MCL, L.A. could be one of the most difficult teams to compete against throughout the second half of the season.