Russell Westbrook is preparing for life on a fourth different team in as many years, with LeBron James welcoming his new running mate to the Los Angeles Lakers following a blockbuster trade.

The Lakers overshadowed the NBA Draft by completing a deal to get Westbrook from the Washington Wizards, who receive Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in return.

The Wizards also got the 22nd pick in Thursday's first round – Isaiah Jackson was taken at that slot, then traded to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for point guard Aaron Holiday – while the Lakers gained two second-round selections in future drafts, according to reports.

For Westbrook, it means yet another fresh start. The 32-year-old ended his long association with the Oklahoma City Thunder when reuniting with James Harden at the Houston Rockets in 2019, only to then leave for Washington a year later.

Despite only spending one season with the Wizards, Westbrook declared his appreciation for all connected with the franchise in an Instagram post after news of the deal had emerged.

"Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one," he wrote.

"Everyone from the front office to the training staff, the coaches, my team-mates, and the fans. I’m grateful y'all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.

"I'm blessed to have been a part of such a stand-up organisation. It didn't take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organisation. Thank you."

LeBron, meanwhile, used his Instagram account to put up a picture of himself and fellow Lakers star Anthony Davis standing either side of the team's latest recruit, along with the caption "Brodie", which is Westbrook's nickname.

The addition is a move aimed at getting the 2019-20 NBA champions back into contention. The title defence did not go to plan last term, long-term injuries to their two stars leading to a struggle just to make the postseason. While they did qualify, the holders were knocked out in the first round by the Phoenix Suns.

As for Westbrook, his year with the Wizards included a key role in a late charge to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament, though they were beaten 4-1 in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers, after which it was announced head coach Scott Brooks would be leaving his role.

Westbrook had broken an NBA record that had stood for 47 years during the regular season, moving beyond Oscar Robertson to top the list for career triple-double games.

He led the league for assists with 11.7 per game, as well as shooting 31.5 per cent from three-point range - his best return from deep sine the 2016-17 season. It will be fascinating to see how he fits into the Lakers' current roster, though it remains to be seen if they are finished making offseason moves just yet, considering free agency is around the corner.

There was speculation L.A. were also in negotiations to bring in Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings. The 28-year-old would add some much-needed outside scoring, seen as he is a career 40.6 per cent shooter from deep.

The Lakers finished at 35.4 per cent as a team from three-point range, ranking them 21st in the entire league. Caldwell-Pope was one of their more successful players when it came to taking aim from distance, finishing up at 41.0 per cent, but he has been moved on in order to add a new playmaking presence.

Westbrook, who is from California and played at UCLA during his college career, will earn $44.2million in 2021-22, then has a player option worth $47m for the following year.

The Los Angeles Lakers are set to add another former MVP, as several media outlets reported they will acquire Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards in a draft-night blockbuster. 

In return for Westbrook and second-round picks in 2024 and 2028, the Lakers reportedly are sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the 22nd overall pick in Thursday's draft to Washington. 

While the deal cannot be officially completed until August 6, when the salary cap for next season is set, commissioner Adam Silver announced the portion involving the draft pick from the podium on Thursday. 

With the 22nd pick that was part of the trade, the Lakers selected Isaiah Jackson from Kentucky and sent him to Indiana as part of a separate deal between the Indiana Pacers and Wizards that reportedly will net Washington Aaron Holiday and the number 31 pick.

But Los Angeles native and former UCLA star Westbrook was the man everyone was talking about on Thursday. 

After one season with Washington, Westbrook will head west to join LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers as they try to bounce back from a first-round playoff loss a year after winning the NBA title. 

The move will cost LA, who will owe their new star trio a combined $121million next season. 

But the Lakers will be hoping for big things from the nine-time All-Star Westbrook, who was the league's MVP in 2016-17 while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder and turns 33 in November. 

Westbrook averaged 22.2 points and a career-high 11.7 assists and 11.5 rebounds in 65 regular-season games last season, recording triple-doubles in 38 of them.

Along the way, he broke Oscar Robertson's long-standing record of 181 career triple-doubles, finishing the season with 184. 

From Washington's perspective, moving on from Westbrook frees up money to keep Bradley Beal as the team's centerpiece moving forward as he enters the final year of his contract. 

The Wizards also added some supporting pieces in the deal, as Harrell averaged 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Lakers last season, while Kuzma contributed 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and Caldwell-Pope 9.7 points. 

 

 

 

One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

Wednesday's meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks should be one of the most mouth-watering contests of the NBA season.

But the allure of the matchup has been lost somewhat – the Lakers still without LeBron James because of an ankle injury and Anthony Davis due to a calf/Achilles issue that has kept him on the sideline since February.

As such, the Bucks, three games back of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, will be the favourites against a Lakers team that stands as the fourth seed in the West.

However, the Lakers have shown fight in ending a four-game losing skid with back-to-back victories and recently added a two-time All-Star center to their roster.

Here, with the help of Stats Perform data, we look at the performers and the battles that will decide this marquee game.

TOP PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo

The back-to-back MVP returned to something approaching his best in the Bucks' defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers last time out.

Coming off a nagging knee injury, Antetokounmpo dropped 32 points for Milwaukee, going 10 for 21 from the field and two of five from the three-point line.

It was his first 30-point game since the win over the Philadelphia 76ers on March 17 and served as an ominous warning to the under-strength Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers - Montrezl Harrell

Averaging 15.2 points for the season, Harrell has stepped it up in the absence of Davis and James.

He has put up 19.5 points per game across March. James (25) is the only Laker with a better average in that regard.

The former Clippers big man has produced seven 20-point games this month and may need an eighth to propel the Lakers to another victory without their two stars.

KEY BATTLE - CAN DRUMMOND BOOST LAKERS ON BOARDS

After reaching a buyout agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Drummond signed with the Lakers with an eye on helping them retain the title by any means necessary.

"For me, I'm just here to help in any capacity," Drummond said on Monday. "I'm not here to do anything besides win."

"I'm just here to help in whatever capacity it may be. I'm not here to steal nobody's shine."

The center will primarily be asked to help the Lakers on the boards. Without LeBron and Davis, their rebounding has declined this month.

For the season, they are ninth in the NBA in rebounds per game with 45.2, but that number has tailed off to 43.5 in March, tied for 17th.

Frank Vogel has confirmed Drummond will start against Milwaukee, with the Lakers surely looking for the four-time rebounding leader to help them compete on the glass against a Bucks team second in the league with 48.2 rebounds per game.

HEAD TO HEAD

Having previously won six straight against the Lakers, the Bucks head into this potential Finals preview out to avoid a third consecutive defeat to Los Angeles, having come undone at the hands of James in their 113-106 loss back in January.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers did little to disguise his irritation after Dwight Howard was ejected on his return to the Staples Center.

Howard and fellow former Los Angeles Laker Danny Green were presented with their 2020 championship rings before Thursday's encounter, which the Sixers won 109-101.

That was little thanks to Howard, who was dismissed by referee Jane Fitzgerald between the first and second quarters after intentionally walking into the Lakers' Montrezl Harrell.

Howard and Harrell had already been called for double technical fouls and the former's punishment as the altercation resumed meant an automatic disqualification

"Clowns. Guys just joking around. It's ridiculous on both parts. I didn't like, it, bottom line," Rivers said in an immediate reaction on the court and victory over the slumping Lakers did not soften his view too much.

"I just thought it was a very selfish play," he said, per ESPN.

"You got one tech, you can't get another one. We just have to have better discipline.

"I get it. I know there's a lot of emotion. But we had one center on our team, and he got thrown out.

"I was not very happy with that one. I know it's an emotional game. But he's a veteran. We got to have better discipline."

Harrell joined the Lakers in the immediate aftermath of Howard's surprise switch to Philadelphia.

Although the source of their bad blood remains unclear, Harrell was unrepentant afterwards, having theatrically waved Howard off the court as he remonstrated with Fitzgerald.

"I'm not backing down from nobody, man. I don't take that lightly. I don't take none of that disrespect," he said.

"You're not gonna push me all around the court and just feel like you're gonna big-boy me and just attack me or whatever.

"It's not in my blood, it will never be in my blood. I don't care what nobody feels about it, I don't care who don't like me. It is what it is."

Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell questioned the incident that saw LeBron James sprain his ankle against the Atlanta Hawks, insisting the injury scenario was "not a loose-ball play".

James is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday's 99-94 NBA loss to the streaking Hawks.

Lakers superstar James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

James – an MVP candidate as he looks to add to his four previous honours – fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

After attempting to stay in the game – hitting a three-pointer to reach 10 points in 11 minutes – James eventually left the game and did not return.

Post-game, James tweeted: "Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my team-mates!

"I'm hurt inside and out right now. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left. #ThekidfromAKRON."

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Harrell – who posted a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for the Lakers – said: "[LeBron yelling] shows you he was in an extreme amount of pain.

"It's a tough play, the guy dived for the loose ball, took a leg out from under him.

"He is human man and he'll have to undergo the protocols like everybody else will do.

"I really don't feel like it was one of those loose ball plays, I mean [Solomon Hill] had to go through his leg to get the ball.

"He was trying to turn away, the ball was behind him, he's jumping at an angle, going across this way.

"I don't know how you feel that's just a loose ball but like I say it's neither here not there. I don't think it's one of those plays where he tried to do it but at the end of the day it's still one of those things I feel like you have to look at."

James – who has missed only one game this season, a loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 3 prior to the All-Star break – has been averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game in 2020-21.

His 10 points against the Hawks extending his NBA-record streak (1,036) of consecutive games with at least 10 points.

Lakers team-mate Dennis Schroder added: "That's an unnecessary play to dive in the leg like that.

"He's bounced back before and he will in a couple of days," Schroder said. "So, I'm not worried."

In response to the criticism, Atlanta's Hill tweeted: "Would never disrespect the game and take a player out purposely… he knows that.

"That's all that matters to me. Praying for a speedy recovery. #riptothementionstho #moredmsthansaweetoe."

LeBron James has praised the continued development of Kyle Kuzma following his starring role in the Los Angeles Lakers' hard-fought victory over the Indiana Pacers. 

The defending NBA champions returned to action after the All-Star break on Friday, though they were made to work for the win by a Pacers team that led by 12 at one stage in the fourth quarter.

However, Kuzma led an impressive rally with his team in trouble, scoring 15 of his 24 points in the final quarter as the Lakers - again without the injured Anthony Davis - eventually triumphed by a 105-100 scoreline.

James had 18 points but was happy to defer to the hot hand, leading to 10 assists. After the game, the four-time MVP pointed to how his long-time team-mate has continued to get better, year on year.

"It's all about growth. The game has just slowed down every year for him. I've been with him for the past three years and the game has just slowed down," James told the media.

"He knows his role with this team - and he does it to a high level. Tonight was another example of that."

He added: "Tonight, he had it going. We continue to find the hot hand, so I wanted to continue to get him the ball so he could continue to make plays.  

"That's the growth of him, knowing that some games are going to be different. It's not always going to be high-scoring nights, but he is still able to make an impact – especially on the glass, with his energy and effort. 

"But we need him to make shots, especially in the absence of AD [Davis]."

Kuzma also contributed 13 rebounds as the Lakers played a 10th successive game without Davis, who is expected to be out for at least another two weeks due to a leg injury.

Center Marc Gasol is also sidelined, with James insisting it is now down to the rest of the roster to step up in the absence of the two big men.

Montrezl Harrell certainly helped out against the Pacers, contributing 17 points and six rebounds as he played 32 minutes off the bench.

"It's a collective group, a collective effort in the front court," James said. "Starting with DJ [Damian Jones], 'Trez' [Harrell] coming off the bench smooth, myself, Kyle, it's a collective group.

"We all have to put our hard hats on in the absence of Marc and AD, play bigger than our size. It's going to be a collective effort from all of us. We all have to step up."

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