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Russell Westbrook

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Zach LaVine
Image courtesy of the Pac-12 Conference

NBA draft prospect Zach LaVine spoke with Laker Nation’s Johnny Navarrette in an exclusive interview to discuss the draft process experience, comparisons to Russell Westbrook, and also shared his thoughts about growing up a Lakers fan, Kobe Bryant, and the current state of basketball in Los Angeles. Be sure to watch LaVine’s pre-draft workout below, presented by PureSweat and Laker Nation’s own Sam Limon.

JN: Since leaving UCLA, how has the entire draft process experience been for you? Competing against the best young talent in the world, meeting with teams and media? 

ZL: “It’s been a lot of fun, just enjoying the process.  You only get to go through it once or twice so it is definitely something that is enjoyable. I’m going in it full-hearted, very confident, and just ride through this process.”

JN: There are some who feel you will be a shooting guard at the next level and some who feel you will be a point guard, what position do you see yourself playing in the NBA?

ZL: “A lot of people haven’t seen me play point guard yet so they can’t really play judgment on to it until they see me in person.  I feel like I have been proving in these workouts that I can play and compete at the point guard position.  I definitely feel comfortable with the ball in my hands but I am also not scared to shoot or score the ball as well because I feel that comes easy to me. I’m a player first so wherever the coach needs me to play at I’ll do it but I definitely feel comfortable with the ball in my hand.”

JN: Do you feel that you are underrated in this draft?

ZL: “I wouldn’t say underrated.  I’m going up and competing against dudes everyday, holding my own, and I feel like my stock keeps rising because I’ve been doing very well against everybody else, stacking up against the competition.  I’ve been doubted a couple times so I guess you can say I’m underrated but I really don’t let outside voices get to me or anything like that.  I know what I can do, I’m a very confident person, and I put in the hard work so I don’t let any of those distractions really mess with me.”

JN: What areas of your game do you feel you need to improve in?

ZL: “I’m still 19-years old so my body is still maturing. I feel like I’ve added strength, I feel that will come naturally.  I want to get my body stronger, add some weight like I said before and just learn a little bit more about off-ball defense, I feel like I am a pretty good on-ball defender.   The grind and the process of the NBA lifestyle as well, you know you mess with 35-year old men so becoming more mature on and off the court as well.”

JN: How big has working with Drew Hanlen (@DrewHanlen) been to you?

ZL: “It’s been really good.  I’ve been working a lot on pick-and-roll reads, sharpening up my ball handling skills, and just becoming more consistent with my jump shot, getting all these different finishes and getting in condition so it has been a lot of fun.”

JN: What is one thing that he has taught you that changed who you are as a player?

ZL: “He’s a really cool dude and one of my close friends now. He’s been teaching me little tricks of the trade, dealing with NBA players before.  I feel like I’m going to be working out with him in the future as well.”

JN: The constant comparison when it comes to you is that of Russell Westbrook, another guard out of UCLA with elite athleticism.  Do you think those comparisons are fair and who is the NBA player you model your game after the most?

ZL: “I see the Russell Westbrook comparisons a lot. I feel like we do don’t play in the same way, he’s a little bit more reckless than I am.  He has a stronger body but athletically I feel we are on the same page.  He pulls up on the break a lot, I like to pull up and I feel like I can get to the lane very easy and create.  I feel like I play like Steph Curry as well with his dribbling and shooting ability off the dribble and one of my good friends Jamal Crawford, same body type, loose handles but still not that conventional point guard but has a lot of different moves to get a shot off on anybody. So I feel I have a little bit of all three of those players.”

JN:  With Jamal Crawford being a close friend, what has he done for you throughout this process?

ZL: “Jamal is a really cool dude and you can talk to him about anything.  He’s from the town like me so all the players from Seattle are definitely close to each other.  He gives me little tricks of the trade, been around the block a couple of times so it’s definitely something you look forward to talking to him about whenever you’re struggling with something and need to know something.”

JN: How was your experience at UCLA? Some questioned your decision to leave after one season, but what did you learn in college that made you feel that you were prepared to make the jump to the NBA?

ZL: “I felt it was my decision and felt it was the right time in my career to take that step.  I’m a confident person; I’m not scared of challenges and feel that my game translates to the NBA pretty well.  I learned life lessons, I had to deal with adversity, play at a level where you could see yourself at and just getting another year of experience.  It was my freshman year, I enjoyed it, living and dying with the guys every game so it was definitely a great experience for me.”

JN: Growing up a Lakers fan, was it surreal to workout for the Lakers in the pre-draft workout? How was the experience?

ZL: “It was a lot of fun. Growing up being a Laker fan, watching everything they do has been really fun for me. Then actually getting to workout for them, getting to put on that jersey is really cool and I took it all in, but at the same time I knew I had a job to do, try the best I could, and just impress.”

JN: You set a Laker pre-draft workout record with a 46-inch vertical, are you surprised by the reaction it’s getting?

ZL: “I mean I could see why, you don’t see that everyday (laughs).  I had I think a 45-inch vertical before at UCLA, 42 at the draft combine, so it depends some days on how you’re feeling, I was little more pumped up that day.  I feel like I did good overall. On the three quarter sprint I ran a 2.95 or something like that and the fastest at the combine was a 3.1, so I don’t know if that is a record for the Lakers or not, but I feel like I did pretty well in all of them.”

JN: Aaron Gordon said in an interview that he would be “tied at the hip” with Kobe Bryant if drafted by the Lakers, what would it mean to you to get drafted by the franchise and what would you hope to learn playing under Kobe?

ZL: “He’s been my favorite player growing up. Not just because of his flashy game, but I love his demeanor. He’s a killer, he puts in the work. I pat myself on always being one of the hardest workers on the team so you can learn everything from him.  He’s one of the greatest of all-time so it’s definitely something I can look forward to picking his brain from.”

JN: His work ethic and competitiveness is considered to be second to none, how do you think your work ethic and attitude would mesh with Kobe, someone who demands greatness from his teammates?

ZL: “He can see someone who he can see as his younger self. I feel like I have a very high competitive nature as well, someone that works extremely hard and is very focused.  Hopefully he would have a good reaction to it, I know at the end of the day he’s still going out there trying to kill you, it’s Kobe Bryant.”

JN: Being a fan, you know the expectations of the team and players are high in Los Angeles when it comes to the Lakers.  How would you handle those expectations?

ZL: “There are expectations but you can only handle what you can handle.  You go out there and try to do the best you can, work hard, try to win, and do the best to your abilities. Knowing me, if I got dressed up to be a Laker, I would be extremely happy.  I feel like my game fits LA. I’m excited to play out there, I feel like I can get the crowd off their feet.  It’s the Lakers, it’s show time, and I feel like my game is little bit of show time. I definitely feel like I can reach those expectations.”

JN: The Lakers and Clippers have somewhat flip flopped roles in Los Angeles in terms of success. What are your feelings on the current state of LA basketball?

ZL: “Lakers are one of the best franchises of all-time, so they are going to get back where they should be in the standings and in the rankings.  Every team goes through its ups and downs, it just happens.  The Clippers are a great team as well, they had their downs and now they are at the top of the pedestal so the Lakers are trying to get back up there.”

JN: Finally, what is your message to Laker Nation about why you are the right choice for the Lakers?

ZL: “I’m a player you can bank on, who is always going to be in the gym working hard, working on their game.  Someone who fits the play-style, fits the face of LA that I feel that I am an exciting player and I’ll do anything to win.  I’m competitive, I’m a team player, and I just feel like my game fits LA.”

Find out where Zach LaVine is drafted on Thursday June 26, 2014, live on ESPN.  Be sure to follow Zach on Twitter at @ZachLaVine as well as Laker Nation at @LakerNation for the latest news and updates surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers.

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Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

March 13, 2014 — 6:30 PM (PST)
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
TV: TNT / TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Since the last Lakers game when they upset the Oklahoma City Thunder, a lot has happened in Lakerland in the past 24 hours. Phil Jackson‘s possibility of joining the Knicks, the announcement that SG Kobe Bryant will be out for the rest of this season, Bryant and Lakers legend Magic Johnson making a “hail-mary” pitch to make Phil Jackson reconsider, and also Bryant reportedly wants Lakers Head Coach Mike D’Antoni fired. 

With all this drama ensuing in Los Angeles, many of you have probably forgotten that the Lakers have a game tonight vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (46-17). They actually upset the Thunder this Sunday, 114-110, in front of national audience.

Jodie Meeks has a career night, dominating the Thunder by shooting 11-18 from the field, shooting 6-11 from three and was a perfect 14-14 from the free throw line. Meeks has been one of the bright spots of what has otherwise been a very dismal season, scoring 15.3 PPG, shooting 45.5% from the field and 39.9% from behind the 3-point line, which are all career highs.

The Lakers won by making 13 three-pointers in order to go on that marvelous 3rd quarter run in which they outscored the Thunder 36-19.

The Thunder seek to come back from Sunday’s loss and protect their home floor vs. Lakers.

Thunder F Kevin Durant, who only shot 19 times vs. Lakers in their last meeting, seek to be more aggressive and become more assertive driving to the basket. The Lakers have nobody to match up with Durant pound-for-pound, so Durant needs to demand the ball to prevent his team from getting upset again.

Projected Starters

PG – Russell Westbrook / Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Thunder]
SG – Perry Jones III / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Lakers]
SF – Kevin Durant / Kent Bazemore [Advantage: Thunder]
PF – Serge Ibaka / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Thunder]
C – Steven Adams / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Thunder: G Derek Fisher, G Jeremy Lamb, F Nick Collison, SF Caron Butler
Lakers: PG Jordan Farmar, C Robert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly, Marshon Brooks, Xavier Henry

Bench Advantage: Thunder

Injury List

Thunder: Out-C Kendrick Perkins, Out-G Thabo Sefelosha
Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant,  Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F Jordan Hill Out-F Nick Young

Key to Victory

Frustrate Westbrook: The Lakers beat the Thunder twice in the last 2 seasons. Both times, the Lakers frustrated PG Russell Westbrook, forcing him to take bad, highly contested shots, and keep the ball out of Durant’s hand. Westbrook shot 7-23 from the field goal, taking very bad shots during the process. I expect Westbrook to play much better tonight especially on their home floor. However, the chances of stopping Westbrook is higher than stopping Durant.

Bottom Line

With a lot of smoke and fire surrounding the Lakers off the floor, the team have to focus on the task at hand and try to execute on both ends of the floor to defeat the Thunder again. Veteran C Pau Gasol has to lead the players by keeping them focused on what happens on the floor and not what happens. The Sunday’s victory vs. Thunder was sweet. However, major difficulties exist to defeat the Thunder twice in a row.

Prediction

Thunder: 120-111

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Image: Harry How | Getty Images

February 13, 2014 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TNT
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Both teams find themselves heading upwards as All-Star Break approaches upon them. The Oklahoma City Thunder (42-12) find themselves ascending in their winning percentage and now have the best record in the NBA without PG Russell Westbrook. Meanwhile, the Lakers (18-34) continually move up in the NBA lottery seed as they continue to lose games.

Thunder F Kevin Durant has dominated the NBA this season, scoring over 40 points 6 times and 30 or more points in 16 of the last 22 games. A favorite to win the MVP this season, Durant has put his entire team on his back without Westbrook with his scoring ability and has propelled the Thunder past all the Western Conference teams into first place.

Meanwhile, the same 3 point guards who returned last week vs. Minnesota Timberwolves have now re-injured themselves within this week.

PG Steve Nash unfortunately continues to deal with nerve root irritation and will not play tonight. Sadly, this might spell the end for Nash, whose nerve issues has not healed the way he wanted to regardless of how much time he spends in rehab.

PG Jordan Farmar also cannot play tonight as he tries to manage his hamstring that he has torn twice this season already. To make matters worse, PG Steve Blake will play tonight but still feels pain in his right elbow. Questions exist to why Blake wants to play tonight especially since the Lakers should not want to see Blake reaggravate his injury and miss the rest of this season.

Projected Starters

PG – Reggie Jackson / Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Thunder]
SG – Thabo Sefolosha / Steve Blake [Advantage: Thunder]
SF – KEVIN DURANT / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Thunder]
PF – Serge Ibaka / Shawne Williams [Advantage: Thunder]
C – Kendrick Perkins / Chris Kaman [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Thunder: G Derek Fisher, G Jeremy Lamb, F Perry Jones III, F Nick Collison, C Steven Adams
Lakers: F Jordan Hill, C Robert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly

Bench Advantage: Thunder

Injury List

Thunder: Out-PG Russell Westbrook, Questionable-PG Thabo Sefelosha
Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Blake, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-C Pau Gasol, Out-PG Jordan Farmar, Out-PG Jodie Meeks, Out-PG Steve Nash, Probable-Steve Blake

Bottom Line

The Lakers currently have trouble finding enough players to put on the floor. They only have 8 players available to play tonight. Irresponsible management of players playing times and injuries can be argued as one of the main causes of so many players going down with injuries. The Thunder should have no problem coming away with an easy victory tonight. Durant will most likely not score 30 or more points tonight since he can probably relax on the bench throughout the majority of the 2nd half of tonight’s game.

Prediction

Thunder: 129-98

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