Russell Westbrook Preaches Confidence After Rockets Lose to Lakers

Michael Shapiro

The Rockets trotted slowly to the locker room after Saturday's loss to the Lakers, shuffling without a word as they dropped their third straight in a 124-115 defeat. It was a similar scene after Wednesday's loss to the Blazers, continuing a string of sluggish play over the last two weeks. The Rockets have slid to sixth in the West at 26–14. They've dropped four of their last five. As concerns mount, Russell Westbrook is preaching confidence through this stretch of adversity. 

"We got to stay positive," Westbrook told the media at the Toyota Center. "Like I said the other day, in adversity what are you going to do? You got to look at yourself, stay locked in. It's part of the season, it happens. As a unit, as a team we got to stay together and figure out the way to put our best foot forward."

Westbrook's leadership has been evident over the last week. He led the Rockets' team meeting after their loss to Portland, imploring his team to play with greater urgency and effort. Westbrook wasn't excoriating his teammates. He led a "positive" discussion, per The Athletic's Kelly Iko. But as Houston's effort waned, someone needed to speak up. Westbrook led the way. 

It wasn't just effort that downed the Rockets on Saturday, though. Houston was decimated in the paint, and perhaps more importantly, it was dreadful from three. The Rockets made just 12 threes on 37 attempts, and they went 1-11 from beyond the arc in the third quarter. P.J. Tucker went 2-8 from the field and Danuel House shot the same from three. Eric Gordon led the Rockets bench with 13 points, but he made just one triple in the second half. Houston's supporting cast will get plenty of opportunities both in the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. The trapping scheme against James Harden isn't going away anytime soon, and Westbrook's furious drives to the tin create a slew of open triples. Westbrook continues to tell his teammates the threes will fall soon enough.

"That's what leaders do," Westbrook said postgame on Saturday. "Encourage guys, constantly stay on them, give them confidence [and] make sure they feel good about their game. Sometimes they go through spells and miss open shots. It happens, I've been there before. That's part of my job and I'm going to continue to do that."

A pair of wins this week could make the Rockets' current slide seem like a distant memory, especially if Houston can find its stroke from three. An 82-game season ebbs and flows. November feels like six months ago. But the concerns that have emerged in the last three games are likely to be tested in the playoffs. The Rockets' role players will have to knock down critical shots for Houston to advance past the Western Conference finals. Westbrook is confident they will.