One look at the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup for Friday's matchup with the Charlotte Hornets, and you knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Without LeBron James or Anthony Davis, the bulk of the scoring and playmaking duties fell on the shoulders of Russell Westbrook, who has had a polarizing first season in L.A., to say the least.
After a dismal first half in which he only scored five points and was a minus-27 in the box score, Westbrook exploded for 30 points in the second half to bring the Lakers within striking distance in an eventual 117-114 loss to the Hornets. The 30 second-half points were the most for a Laker in a half since Kobe Bryant in his final NBA game. Bryant scored 38 points in the second half against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016, as he finished with 60 points on the emotional night. Just two days after the two-year anniversary of Bryant's death, Friday night was the first time Westbrook had scored 30 points in a half since March of 2017.
"When the team needs me to do it, I'm able to still do it. That's the most important part," said Westbrook, whose 35 points were a season-high. "The unfortunate part is we didn't win the game. But, with my teammates, those guys give me confidence to be aggressive and make the right reads. So it was good to kind of get that going."
Westbrook's flurry helped the Lakers erase a 20-point third-quarter deficit, as they trailed by just two points heading into the final frame. With the Lakers behind by nine with 2:37 left in the game, Westbrook scored 10 straight points, including two 3-pointers, to cut the Charlotte lead to three with just under a minute remaining. As Westbrook scored bucket after bucket, the ESPN cameras cut to Hornets owner Michael Jordan, who couldn't believe his eyes.
After a putback layup by Lakers forward Stanley Johnson brought the Lakers within a point, Jordan could no longer watch.
A free throw by Hornets guard LaMelo Ball extended Charlotte's lead to 116-114, and the Lakers had possession with just under 10 seconds remaining. The ball, of course, went to Westbrook, but his potential game-winning, pull-up 3-pointer bounced off the rim to end all hopes of a Laker comeback.
"The hottest guy in the gym has the ball in his hands, ready to make a play. I had no problem with the shot he took," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said of Westbrook's final shot. "He's 3 for 6 from 3 in the second half, and he went for the win. He knocks that down and we're talking about one hell of a win. It just didn't go down for us."
Westbrook has suffered through some tremendously cold stretches during the season so far, but the Lakers needed this kind of performance from him with both James and Davis out of the lineup. In addition to his 35 points, Westbrook added five assists and four rebounds, while committing just a single turnover. He went 12-for-23 from the field, and has now shot over 50 percent in each of his last four games.
Despite the furious effort from Westbrook, the Lakers fell to 24-26 with the loss. They'll look to bounce back on Sunday in Atlanta against the red-hot Hawks. While Westbrook has shown signs of being more comfortable, the Lakers still need him, James and Davis to mesh on the court together if they're going to make some noise in the Western Conference.
"Ultimately when myself and AD and Bron are on the court, we've got to be able to figure that out to where I can still keep my same speed and pace to the basket and allow me to make the game easier for them," Westbrook said after Friday's loss. "Hopefully as we kind of move forward through this season, getting ready for our run, we can put some games together that we like the way we're playing."