NEW YORK — LeBron James isn’t the only Los Angeles Lakers player making remarkable moves in the record books while the team remains pedestrian in the standings.
Guard Russell Westbrook (8,972) passed Gary Payton (8,966) for No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time assists list during the Lakers’ 121-104 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.
“If somebody had told me 15 years ago, 20 years ago that you’d be top 10 in assists, I’d look at them like they was crazy,” Westbrook said after finishing with 17 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. “In the NBA, never dreamt of being in this position, nor getting to the point to where I’m next to some of the greats. I’m just truly grateful and thankful for an opportunity to keep playing at the highest level and I don’t take any of that for granted.”
Westbrook was asked if he had any trash talk for the notoriously motor-mouthed Payton as he passed him on the all-time list.
“I’m pretty sure whatever I would say, he would be talking right back,” Westbrook said. “I’m not a big trash-talker, I just like to compete. But I’m pretty sure back in his day, he would have talked some mess, and I’d be right back at him.”
Lakers forward Troy Brown Jr. marveled at the passing skills of Westbrook.
“His ability to get the ball out of his hands so quickly [is impressive],” Brown said of his former Washington Wizards teammate. “Russ will be midmove, and it’ll just be fired at you.”
It was another mixed night overall for Westbrook, however. While the league’s all-time triple-double leader neared his signature stat line, he also shot 5-for-15 from the field with six turnovers. In the fourth quarter, he was 1-for-4 from the field and 1-for-4 from the foul line with two turnovers, and L.A. was outscored by seven in the nine minutes he was in the game as Brooklyn ran away with the win.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham made a point to recognize Westbrook for the assists achievement in the postgame locker room, despite the loss.
“Everybody gave him an applause. That’s a hell of a feat,” Ham said. “But again, we play the right way things like that are going to happen. Eventually Bron is going to eclipse the scoring record and Russ just moved into the top 10 of all-time assists leaders. Those things are great. Those are huge shots in the arm for our franchise and for those guys and for us as a team, those guys individually.
“But again, just we have to come out and play.”
The loss dropped the Lakers to 23-28, with a lack of consistency continuing in their play overall.
“I mean we’ve seen it when we’re able to play the right way, and we know what it takes,” Westbrook said. “It’s just really up to us honestly.”
James and Anthony Davis sat Monday night because of recent foot injuries, but the Lakers expect both back Tuesday against the New York Knicks. Swingman Austin Reaves, out since Jan. 4 with a hamstring injury, also could return to the lineup during L.A.’s five-game road trip, making the roster whole for the first time in a long time.
Thomas Bryant, who was a bright spot against the Nets with 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting and nine rebounds, said recognizing Westbrook’s career achievement after the game was a good way to turn the page and start looking ahead optimistically.
“That’s a positive start right there,” Bryant said. “Tenth all time. Top 10. C’mon now. That’s pretty damn amazing right there. That’s a good positivity going into the next game. We can’t really hang our heads on this one. We got some positivity coming out of it.”