Julius Randle’s performance Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls was no accident.
The Lakers’ third-year forward wanted the matchup that eluded him last time. He wanted his team to feed off his energy on a night they were missing two starters and playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
“It was important for me to come out and make a statement,” Randle said after the Lakers’ often-ugly 96-90 victory that evened their record at 10-10. “Let them know, let my team know, tonight’s not the night. We’re going to be tough, we’re going to fight and we’re not backing down.”
Randle led the way with 20 of the Lakers’ 60 rebounds, and contributed the go-ahead basket in the final minute. he also scored 13 points and had two assists and two steals.
Backup guards Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams led the team with 18 points each.
Larry Nance Jr. added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Bulls star Jimmy Butler, meanwhile, made only four of 18 field goal attempts, including one of six from three-point range. Butler scored 40 points in the Bulls’ win at Staples Center on Nov. 20.
“Today our offense wasn’t what it usually is, missed some key components,” Nancesaid. “And our defense stepped up.”
It wasn’t always pretty.
The Lakers committed a season-high 23 turnovers. Wednesday’s game also marked the first time all season the Lakers won a game in which they did not score at least 100 points.
“Our guys have proven when their backs are against the wall, they can step up for a challenge,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “They did it tonight. That’s a great win against a very good team. … Held them to I think 35% from the field shooting. Which is all we talked about pregame, was defense. That’s it. Defense. … If you’re committed to the defensive end on basketball, you always give yourself a chance.”
Wednesday’s game offered an unlikely stage to reach double-digit wins.
The Lakers had just come off a blowout road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday and were facing a Bulls team that had four days of rest. They lost their starting shooting guard, Nick Young, to a right calf strain in the first quarter against the Pelicans. They remained without starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, who is recovering from an injury to his left knee.
Randle remembered how the Bulls pushed around the Lakers in the recent game at Staples Center. He was particularly critical of his own performance against Bulls forward Taj Gibson.
“I love the accountability he wants,” Walton said. “Not only to say you want it, but to go out and get 20 rebounds and back it up is impressive.”
Gibson had 11 points and 10 rebounds, but it was Randle making the key plays.
In the closing moments of the game, Randle pushed his team across the finish line.
With less than a minute to go, Randle demanded the ball. He spun through the paint against Nikola Mirotic to bank in a layup that gave the Lakers a 92-90 lead. The Bulls never scored again.
“This is kind of what we’re starting to expect out of Julius,” Walton said. “He’s done it enough nights now that we think he can do it on any given night, and should do it on every given night.”