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    Has Russell Westbrook solved Clippers’ search for the right point guard?
    • October 26, 2023

    Maybe all the Clippers needed was the right point guard.

    Over the years, the team has tried out All-Stars, future stars, a multiple-time Sixth Man of the Year Award winner, veteran leaders and a future Hall of Famer at the point. All fearless ball handlers with innate abilities to pass and score but none who created much of a stir.

    Then there is Russell Westbrook, the latest to take on the team’s point guard job, a task he can still perform as evidenced by his inspired play in the Clippers’ season opener on Wednesday night. The 2017 league MVP had 11 points, 13 assists and five rebounds in a 123-111 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers that was far more lopsided than the final score indicated. His assist total was the most in a Clippers season opener since Andre Miller in 2002.

    “I’m still as fast as anybody, jump as high as anybody. I can play at an elite level. I still see myself as an elite basketball player in this league. I can do pretty much anything, can guard the best,” Westbrook, 34, said.

    Few would argue with him after watching his four high-flying dunks, each punctuated with a roar, and the sure-fire passes that alleviate the pressure of creating shots for teammates, such as All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

    “He knows how he plays the game. He’s attacking the rim and that makes our life easier if we could just catch and shoot rather than dribbling in the basketball. Those are the hardest shots in the game,” said Leonard, who scored 23 points on the strength of a 5-for-5 night from 3-point range.

    “With him able to get in the paint, not be selfish and pass us the ball along when we’re open, that’s making our life easier.”

    Paul George lobbied hard to get Westbrook into a Clippers jersey last season before the team signed him after he was traded from the Lakers to Utah and then waived by the Jazz. The two played together for two seasons in Oklahoma City, where George previously said he played some of his best basketball, thanks to Westbrook.

    “In Oklahoma with him and playing alongside him, I just know how good of a communicator he is, how good of a connector he is, and I said this from the moment that I got in Oklahoma,” George said after scoring a game-high 27 points in the opener.

    “One of the things that I noticed right away is that he just had a relationship with every person on the team, which is rare, especially the superstar that he was in Oklahoma. It was just like he was best friends with everyone on the team and he just had a special connection with all the guys. That was the first thing that I noticed.

    “It’s the reason why guys play hard around him. When you got a guy that connects with you on that level, it’s easy to come in and be prepared and be ready to play.”

    One game – and the 21 he played last season – doesn’t make Westbrook a savior but his ability to connect with his teammates on and off the court could bring the Clippers closer to the promised land of an NBA championship.

    “He gets the chemistry and everything down pat,” forward Robert Covington said. “That’s what it’s all about. Like, he came to us at a time when we’re feeling each other out. But, like you said, now guys are building that chemistry, that camaraderie, it’s been key for us.”

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    George said when Westbrook gets on the court, the production level rises along with the energy he brings. The players feel it. The fans see it.

    “I think him just being around us, him being here, the fans embracing the Clippers embracing him, teammates, coaches, everybody’s just embracing him and rallying around him,” George said. “You’re going to see the Westbrook everybody loved two years ago. For whatever fans that fell off, I don’t know how you do it when the guy brings it and plays so hard on the floor every night.”

    How long will this last? Westbrook was clear on that.

    “Until I can’t do that no more, then I guess that’s what it’ll be,” he said. “But I don’t know when that is. I’m super grateful and blessed to be able to play, and like I’ve always said, I don’t take this game for granted by any means.

    “I’ll play as long as I can, and obviously where God takes me.”

    ​ Orange County Register