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Randle embraces Walton's challenge to be the Lakers' tough guy

Randle embraces Walton's challenge to be the Lakers' tough guy
Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) shoots as New York Knicks center Kyle O'Quinn defends on Jan. 21. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

What struck some as a criticism of Julius Randle last week didn't feel that way to the Lakers forward.

After the Lakers were outmuscled by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Randle grabbed only one rebound, Lakers Coach Luke Walton said that he wanted Randle to be "our guy" to push back when the Lakers get pushed around.

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Randle didn't address reporters after the game, but two days later he said he embraced Walton's challenge.

"Yeah, it is part of a leadership position," Randle said, when asked if he is comfortable with Walton singling him out. "It is good that guys kind of look after you, the energy and what you bring to the court and kind of follow that. It's cool."

Randle said that he has had many conversations with Walton about being the player who sets the tone for the Lakers in terms of their toughness. His relationship with the coach is one that from the outside can sometimes seem heated.

They have no problem shouting at each other during games. Walton criticizes him publicly more than most of the Lakers' other players. Randle's playing time is sometimes dictated by a motivational ploy from Walton, who knows that benching Randle can sometimes ignite the kind of passion in his young big man that can elevate his play.

While Walton has taken criticism for not being hard enough on some players, that has never been the case with Randle.

When Randle is at his best, the Lakers are too. The last three games in which he scored more than 20 points, the Lakers won. He had one of his best games of the season Sunday against the New York Knicks, finishing with 27 points and 12 rebounds.

In that game, the Lakers were tougher than their opponents.

"It's just kind of something I try to bring every night and focus on bringing that every night," Randle said the day before. "That is all I can really say about it. Just focus on bringing [toughness] every night and choose my spots on what I can do to help the team win."

Lonzo out

As expected, the Lakers said that Lonzo Ball would not play Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics. Ball is dealing with a left knee injury that already has sidelined him for four games.

The Lakers at first struggled in adjusting toe Ball's absence. They lost their first eight games in which Ball was sidelined, first with a shoulder injury and now because of his knee.

They have since won two in a row, with other players filling the role of facilitator.

Clarkson surging

Jordan Clarkson is one of the Lakers who has stepped into a playmaking role of late. During their two-game winning streak, he has contributed 17 assists, 10 against the Knicks on Sunday.

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In that game, Clarkson became the first NBA reserve to finish with at least 29 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals since steals became an official statistic in the 1973-74 season.

"I think he is feeling pretty good about himself offensively," Walton said. "He was struggling defensively in the first half. So I don't think he used that to find his offense tonight. He is obviously a very gifted offensive player and I think he is feeling good about himself right now."

Clarkson is the first Laker reserve to score at least 25 points with at least 10 assists since Magic Johnson did it in 1996.

UP NEXT

LAKERS VS. BOSTON CELTICS

When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. PST.

On the air: TNT.

Update: At 34-13 the Celtics lead the Eastern Conference, but they have lost their last three games.

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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