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Lakers' D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle learn that preparation and routine are half the battle in NBA

Yes, Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell calls assistant coach Jesse Mermuys “Nemo,” the animated character in a Disney movie. Mermuys, Russell believes, looks like a little fish, and in turn Mermuys calls Russell “Dory,” Nemo’s friend.

They work together enough that nicknames are inevitable, but the substance behind their relationship changed something in Russell not long ago.

Coaches past have suggested a daily routine might help Russell, and that advice never seemed to stick. He admits he never thought he needed it. Mermuys, who often works with Russell individually, sought that dedication.

“He made a commitment to Jesse a couple weeks ago and he’s stuck to it,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “He’s done it every single day since then. I’m obviously in the loop. That was more him and Jesse than me. I think everyone that follows us closely has seen a change. His numbers have changed. … His level of play has gone way up since then.”

Russell and forward Julius Randle have both caught Walton’s eye with the recent upswing in their play, and Walton draws a direct line from their improved pregame preparation and increased energy in practices to what they’ve done on the court.

Over the last five games, both Randle and Russell rank in the NBA top 10 in points, rebounds and assists per 48 minutes among players younger than 22 who have averaged at least 25 minutes per game.

“Just growing up, just holding ourselves accountable,” Randle said. “It starts with us — good or bad — we’ve got to be leaders of the team and hold ourselves accountable, to step up to the plate and make plays because it starts with us.”

Working hard wasn’t the problem for Russell. The issue was his willingness to schedule that work an stick to that schedule day after day. While in the past he practiced shooting intermittently, now Russell schedules that time.

Sometimes he lifted weights before practice, sometimes after. Now he always does it after.

The stretches are the same every day.

“I had no idea a routine is what I needed,” Russell said. Now he credits that routine with allowing him to feel more comfortable in everything he does on the court.  

As for Randle, the energy and intensity Walton has seen lately certainly isn’t due to getting enough sleep. Randle became a father on Dec. 23 when his fiancée gave birth to their first child.

“Not getting too much sleep, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” Randle said. “It’s been amazing. The most exciting part of my day is coming home from practice or coming home from a game and he’s up and you’re holding him, he’s looking into your eyes.”

Since becoming a father, Randle has scored in double digits in every game. He’s had a double-double, a triple-double and three other games in which he had nine rebounds, nearing three more double-doubles.

None of this saves him from the ire of Walton, who knows Randle can handle being chided forcefully, that he in fact almost relishes it.

“There’s not as much to nag him about when he’s playing like this,” Walton said. “That being said, I still find things.”

Sometimes Walton angers Randle temporarily, but when Randle recalls those moments later, he does so with a smile.

As he’s learning more about being an NBA player, Randle is discovering that one can’t always rely on coaches to provide challenges. He’s learning a professional has to challenge himself. And it doesn’t hurt to have teammates who can do it, too.

“I try to stay on top of Julius as much as possible,” Russell said. “He lets me know when I’m slacking. And I let him know. It causes some confusion, some butting heads, but we know what it is at the end of the day and it’s helping us both.”

Clarkson fined

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson was fined $15,000 “for throwing a forearm above the shoulders to Heat guard Goran Dragic,” the NBA said in a news release.

“I thought it was going to be worse to be honest with you,” Clarkson said. “But it is what it is. Gotta get past it.”

Clarkson and Dragic were ejected from the Lakers’ 127-100 win over Miami on Friday. They jostled in the paint before Clarkson used his forearm to push Dragic to the floor. Clarkson said Dragic elbowed him in the chest and stomach, which Dragic denied. Dragic was not fined for his part in the incident, which involved his charging at Clarkson before being held back.

The Lakers had some concern that Clarkson might be suspended, but the fine was the only punishment.

UP NEXT

VS. MAGIC

When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday 

Where: Staples Center

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 15-26; Trail Blazers 16-23

Record vs. Portland: 0-1

Update: The Laker’s last game against Portland was one of the 18 times this season they’ve had a double-digit lead in a game they ultimately lost. The good news for the Lakers is they are playing much better at home than on the road, especially lately. The Lakers have a three-game winning streak at home and are 10-10 this season at Staples Center.

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Twitter: @taniaganguli

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