Lakers coach fights tears over star’s sacrifice

Lakers coach Darvin Ham has fought tears when discussing Russell Westbrook’s move to the bench after the team’s first win of the season.

LeBron James scored 26 points and Anthony Davis added 23 to help the Lakers to their first win of the season with a 121-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Westbrook had 18 points for the Lakers (1-5), who had lost their first five games of the season under their first-year head coach. Los Angeles was the last winning team in the NBA.

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Ham celebrated in the locker room with his team and received a celebratory dousing of water.

“We needed to prove something to ourselves,” Ham said. “Not to the world, not the media. We had to prove it to ourselves. I feel great about how we responded throughout the game.”

Westbrook, who came off the bench again and has been accepting of that role, drove the lane and scored on a layup to extend the Lakers lead to 117-106 in the final minutes as the Lakers closed out the win.

The bench move comes after the 2017 MVP, who is on almost $74 million this season, resisted the role for a long time.

“I told him he’s going to thrive, just trust me,” an emotional Ham said of Westbrook’s move to the bench.

“I’m so happy, man. I can’t even imagine what that kid has been going through. One of the biggest things for me getting this job was for him to get that respect that deserved, because a lot of what went on last year was not his fault and all the blame was placed on him.

“I told him, ‘Just listen to me, believe in me, I’m going to put you in a position to succeed with the group, but you have to put the group first. It can’t be about me, or I or mine. It’s got to be us, ours, we’, and he’s done that.”

In the third quarter, he raised his arms to get fans on their feet and he obliged.

“Like I’ve mentioned since day one, whatever is needed from me to help the team win, that’s what I’ll do,” Westbrook said.

Nikola Jokic scored 23 points and Jamal Murray added a season-high 21 for the Nuggets (4-3), who had four of their last five and two straight games before Monday’s loss.

Austin Reaves made a three-pointer from the top of the arc and Lonnie Walker IV drove the baseline for a dunk to give the Lakers a 113-100 advantage. That 13-point lead was their largest of the season.

The Lakers made 13 three-pointers on 13-for-30 shooting after struggling with long-range shots this season in their previous five games. The Nuggets made 15 three-pointers.

Davis was aggressive early after missing one game with lower back tightness and was questionable Sunday but played. He tweaked his back in the game against Denver on Wednesday when the Nuggets beat the Lakers 110-99 in Denver.

Davis, who called Sunday’s game a must-win, said he’ll have to manage the pain.

“It’s day by day,” Davis said. “One day, I feel great. The next day (it’s hard). Just try to manage it and keep getting treatment.”

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The Lakers led 55-51 at halftime. They trailed by as many as 10 points in the first quarter but overcame that deficit by halftime.

“They were playing with desperation and I felt like we had them and let it slip away,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said.

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