On Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers — and their fans — fell back in love with Russell Westbrook. The feeling seemed mutual. At least for one night.

Westbrook came off the bench for the second game in a row and helped lead the Lakers to their first win of the season;  a spirited and balanced 121-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Russ has taken his “realignment” to second-unit duty head-on. He has enthusiastically embraced the new gig, rather than reluctantly jogging through the motions. The reverberations of his sacrifice — on the Lakers' execution, chemistry, and vibe — have been palpable.

If he keeps it up, he could salvage both the Lakers' season and the final years of his NBA career.

In Friday's Anthony Davis-less loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Westbrook, after missing his first five shots, finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. His energy and ability to turn boards into transition opportunities ignited a key 7-0 run before halftime (he scored 10 points in the period). Los Angeles outscored Minnesota 47-22 in bench points.

“My hat’s off to him once again,” Darvin Ham said about Russ postgame. “He showed the type of impact he can have in that reserve role. Shoring up our bench. Not just coming in and trying to maintain anything, but coming in and taking it up a notch. So he was great in that role tonight and I look forward to seeing him in it more.”

LeBron James said Westbrook “definitely catapulted us.”

“I just come in and try to figure out what the game needs,” Westbrook reflected. “I felt our pace was a little slow so I came in and picked the pace up. Get up and down the floor, get open shots, find guys, and create some movement.”

It wasn't a flawless outing, but Ham's vision was apparent.

Back at home against Denver, the Lakers got a full-throated, exuberant performance from Westbrook: 18 points on 50 percent shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists, and a team-high +18.

It was as joyful and vintage of a showing from Westbrook since he has worn purple-and-gold (or, on this day, blue-and-white, not unlike his UCLA garb). His vigor visibly excited his teammates, especially younger role players like Matt Ryan, Lonnie Walker IV (who was cooking), and Austin Reaves. The Lakers were simply having a blast.

“We needed all 32 sensational minutes that he had,” said LeBron.

AD said he approached Westbrook after the buzzer to praise him for his “unbelievable” efforts over the past two games. He encouraged Russ to “keep doing what he's doing.”

Inside Crypto.com Arena, you could sense, in real-time — especially during an electric 18-2 run to close the third quarter — everybody in the building simultaneously realize the potential of this version of Westbrook with the 2022-23 Lakers. It was as if a debilitating weight was lifted off the players' shoulders once they saw Westbrook happy and hooping. Instead of pouting and sulking, there was shimmying, rocking the baby, other post-basket celebrations, and nonstop smiles. His swagger was back. The evening was capped off by a delirious dousing to celebrate Ham's first career victory.

The Lakers even hit 43.3 percent of their 3-pointers, many of which were culminations of the zippy ball movement Westbrook helped generate. The team's obvious groove, ignited by Westbrook's play and pep, fomented a crispness. The Lakers turned it over just nine times against 24 assists.

“I just think the ball had a little pop to it,” Ham said. “Guys were penetrating, kicking, finding open shooters, and guys didn't hesitate.”

Amid the second-half barrage, with Crypto in a frenzy, Westbrook took a moment to pump up the crowd. This was notable coming from the Angeleno who has been repeatedly taunted and cursed out at home to the point where he didn't want his children coming to the games. The atmosphere has been typically toxic since midway through last season.

“To be a player of his caliber and asked to come off the bench, that's truly a guy doing whatever the team asks to get a win,” credited AD. “Sacrifice his starting position for the betterment of the team. He's flourished in that role. That's all we can ask for. I told him, ‘Just keep what you're doing, man. Everything you're doing is unbelievable.' In the last two games, he just kind of been doing his thing. Proud of him.”

(Davis deserves flowers, too, for inspiring his team via a gutsy, hobbled effort against the two-time MVP.)

“We're all here for one reason, and that's to win,” LeBron stated. “When guys' numbers are called or not called, we have to understand it's for the better of the team, not individuals. And tonight was one of those cases where guys stay ready, and guys who stayed ready and whose number wasn't called as much as it was before, but they were still locked in and cheering on the group, the group that was in there. So that's what the team is all about.”

Ham passionately spoke on the significance of the nine-time All-Star embracing the bench role, which Ham has been trying to convince Westbrook to embrace for months.

Ham was hired, in large part, because of his ability to hold stars accountable and get players to buy into his objectives. So far, he has proven those chops. Frank Vogel would not have engendered the same investment from Russ, and thereby never got autonomy from the organization to try him as the sixth man.

As pretty much everybody who follows Lakers basketball knew, letting Russ quarterback the second unit was, in theory, the right move for all parties involved. It enables the Lakers to stagger Westbrook and LeBron (the combo doesn't work), and allows Westbrook to dictate pace with the ball in his hands (his best and preferred style) while increasing his value and perception around the league. It was up to Westbrook to bench his pride and ego.

Russ had already made a concerted effort to hone his defense. But his displeasure with his situation and the related distractions were dragging the team down and sucking the air out of the locker room and the offense.

Westbrook's demeanor wasn't unusual after the Nuggets' win. He mellowly repeated go-to soundbites: He's blessed to play basketball, his joy for the game was never sapped by outside noise, he relishes seeing others succeed, and he has always been willing to sacrifice for the team.

“Like I mentioned before, we had many conversations about sacrificing and what that looks like for me,” Westbrook said about his months-long dialogue with Ham about his role. “Like I’ve mentioned since day one, whatever’s needed from me to be able to help the team win, that’s what I’ll do and I’ll continue doing that as the season goes along.”

Westbrook often uttered similar comments throughout last season and training camp. But until his play and attitude backed it up, the words came across as empty pablum as he hurried through media obligations.

Suddenly, though, the sentiment — from a player who has stubbornly resisted adapting his game for 15 years and fired his longtime agent for recommending he do so — feels more genuine. Again, at least for one night.

The vibes may not stay this good forever — or even for long. He will not close every game. He'll struggle with shooting, defense, and decision-making and will hear it from Lakers fans. His minutes (currently 30 per game) will decrease once Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn play better and Dennis Schroder returns.

The Lakers remain deeply flawed and will lose plenty of games. They're 1-5 and could easily drop their next few before the schedule eases. Russ acknowledged that sacrificing is harder in losses than wins.

Last season, Westbrook “did whatever the team asked” in precisely one game — the second of the season, when he set eight ball screens for LeBron, per ESPN's Zach Lowe, and was a useful off-ball mover. He quickly reverted to his old ways, except for tepid moments here and there.

He is still likely to be traded between Thanksgiving and the deadline, which could either deflate his commitment to his new role or vice versa — knowing it's probably a short-term position, anyway. (Curiously, Westbrook didn't acknowledge Sunday's welcome lovefest with Lakers fans despite being asked twice about it. A blown layup, if you will.)

Perhaps Westbrook's admiration for Ham is a difference-maker. Or, he finally got the message that he was on the verge of being out of the league.

At his first Media Day in Los Angeles, Westbrook said his goal was to “uplift” the Lakers, a word he repeated again on Sunday. One tumultuous year later, Westbrook faces his best opportunity to make it happen.