LeBron James assists a bloodied Russell Westbrook as the Lakers keep the Lakers rolling

SAN ANTONIO — Russell Westbrook was covered in blood after blatantly fouling his forehead when LeBron James stepped in to drag the Los Angeles Lakers guard out of the fight and cover the cut with a towel in the third quarter on Saturday.

It wasn’t the flashiest sequence the duo took part in together in Los Angeles’ 143-138 win over the Spurs — that distinction belongs in their double-alley run in the first half — but it was the most important.

“His health is more important than a basketball game,” James said after the game. “So I just tried to stop that and let the coaching staff do their job after we got him on the bench.”

Spurs big man Zack Collins grabbed Westbrook across the head with his right forearm as he attempted to defend the return attempt by Westbrook with 2:00 remaining in the third quarter. Westbrook rose to his feet to confront Collins when James took him away from the Spurs players huddled in the paint and towards half the field.

“I saw the cut right when he just got up off the floor and wanted, uh, to do something for Zach,” said James, who led the Lakers with 39 points and 11 rebounds. 12 from 3 and 10 for 10 from the foul line.

After a video review for officials, Collins was assessed a flagrant 2 foul, which came with an ejection. Westbrook received a technical foul for his reaction.

“I was stumped on this myself,” Westbrook said of the technology. “I wasn’t sure why I got one, but I’ll check with the league and talk to them about it and find out why. Maybe it was because I might have jumped or something. Absolutely.”

When asked if James was protecting him from any kind of retaliation from Collins, Westbrook said, “Maybe it is.”

The Lakers’ three-game road trip against the Phoenix Suns kicked off on Tuesday as Patrick Beverley shoved DeAndre Ayton in response to Ayton taunting Lakers’ Austin Reeves, resulting in Beverley’s three-game suspension.

“Once I was bleeding all over the place I was able to calm down and take care of that and move forward,” said Westbrook, who scored 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in 27 minutes.

He was able to return to the court to finish the game after the laceration was treated by Lakers medical staff who were able to close it without the use of stitches.

James and Westbrook’s on-court partnership has been futile since Los Angeles traded him the 2017 NBA Most Valuable Player of the Year in the summer of 2021. The Lakers failed miserably to reach championship aspirations last season and Westbrook was relegated to the bench this season.

However, things seemed out of sync on Saturday.

“Before we became teammates, we were always like brothers, cool, and things like that,” said James.

First-year Lakers coach Darvin Hamm said James’ coming to Westbrook was emblematic of the team culture he hopes to build.

“This is what teamwork looks like,” Hamm said. “Being there for your teammate. [Westbrook] He takes a bullet to the head and doesn’t want to escalate the situation. You want to try to calm him down. You’ve got a guy with blood on his face who’s understandably upset and he has a bron in there, it signifies a sisterhood. We need this kind of image, this work, this faith in each other. We need that to represent us as a team and as a franchise.”

Los Angeles won for the fifth time in their last six games, although the absence of Anthony Davis, who came off with a left calf bruise, kept the momentum going.

The game play came late in the second quarter with the aforementioned double alley. James stole the ball near center field and Westbrook lined up on the right side of the field in transition. Trey Jones was the only San Antonio defender running back, and James flicked a pass over Jones’ head to Westbrook, who jumped toward the basket for a catch. Rather than finish the play himself, Westbrook catches it and returns it to James in mid-air.

“Ross being one of the elite guys on this team and one of the elite passers in this game for so long, I figured I’d just hang around and see if he’d throw the ball again, and he did,” said James. “And I was able to reward it.”

James finished the play with a one-handed bunt to give Los Angeles a 70-64 lead.

“Bron is known for always being late,” Westbrook said. “So, I just know that and be able to read that and put the pass where he’s going to be able to finish.”

The connection made an impression on the team.

Lakers quarterback Thomas Bryant said, “It’s something you don’t see every day—two talented offensive players like that acting so selflessly with each other.” “This is something that translates to everyone on the team, and everyone sees that.”

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