Julius Randle continues his growing pains on the court

Lakers forward Julius Randle, right, shoots as Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic defends during the first half Tuesday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Effort is rarely an issue for Julius Randle, the blue-collar forward who was the seventh pick in the 2014 draft, but consistency in decision-making, performance and production has been elusive.

Randle endured more growing pains Tuesday in the Lakers’ 127-121 loss to Denver, making two of eight shots for seven points and committing five turnovers.

He had seven assists but picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and sat out the entire fourth while reserves Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac fueled a late push as the Lakers trimmed a 19-point deficit to one with just under two minutes left.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Holy Lord, he’s figured it out, and the rest of the league is in trouble,’ ” Coach Luke Walton said of Randle. “And there are other times when it’s like, ‘Wow, what was he looking at right there?’ ”


Randle played some of his most inspired basketball of the season after his son, Kyden, was born Dec. 22. In his first eight games back, Randle averaged 17.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and shot 51% from the field. In five games since, Randle has averaged 8.2 points and shot 34.9%.

“He’s probably trying to figure out a new sleep schedule at home with the new little man,” Walton said. “But he works his tail off, he wants to win, and he wants to get better.”

Of his new son, Randle said, “He’s not a distraction. I’m just being a father and trying to balance it out.”

Walton said Randle “had a nice edge to him” in practice Wednesday, but Randle said it wasn’t because he was upset by his fourth-quarter benching.

“I wanted my team to win,” Randle said, when asked to describe his emotions. “Those guys did a heck of a job giving us a chance to win. I was trying to support them and stay locked in if my number was called.”

Like all of the young Lakers who have stumbled through a season filled with more frustration than hope, Randle dazzled and befuddled Tuesday.

He found Timofey Mozgov with a slick no-look pass for a dunk in the first quarter and Tarik Black with an alley-oop pass for a jam before halftime. But he ran over Kenneth Faried for a charging foul in the second and overthrew Mozgov on an alley-oop and lost control of his dribble in the third.

The Lakers, who have lost 21 of 26 games, were equally erratic against the Nuggets, giving up 40 first-quarter points and 101 points through three quarters marked by what Walton described as “lazy defense.”


Then came an energetic fourth quarter in which the Lakers (15-31) were active and aggressive on defense and unselfish on offense, passing up shots to set up teammates for open ones.

“I know we’re gonna get it — I just don’t know when we’re gonna get it,” Walton said. “We’ve put games together, halves together, quarters together, where we get it, so I know we have it in us. We just have to do it more often.”

Zu keeper

Walton said Zubac was as good on tape Wednesday as he was in person Tuesday, when the 19-year-old center scored 11 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for his first double-double and blocked three shots in a career-high 26 minutes.


“The great thing about it is, it wasn’t like he did anything crazy,” Walton said. “He made the simple play. He rolled hard, set good screens, made extra passes when he needed to. He got a lot of deflections on defense and changed a lot of shots.”

Most of Zubac’s action has come in the D-League — the 7-foot-1, 265-pound Croatian native has played in 106 minutes of 11 games for the Lakers — but his confidence and comfort levels are growing.

When he gave up a fourth-quarter shot to pass to Nick Young, who missed an open corner three-pointer that would have trimmed Denver’s lead to one, Zubac said he told Young, “You’ve got to make that shot.”

Was he joking?


“No, I was serious,” Zubac said. “It was a great pass. He’s gonna make that shot the next time.”

Reminded that he is a rookie and Young is 31-year-old veteran of 10 NBA seasons, Zubac said, “Yeah, but we’re on the same team, on the same court, playing together and trying to win.”


Larry Nance Jr. (left knee bruise) was a full participant in practice except for one drill Wednesday, but the forward won’t play Friday night. … Luol Deng, who missed Tuesday’s game because of a sprained right wrist, did not practice Wednesday and is questionable for Friday. “I hope it’s not serious,” Walton said, “but I have no idea what his timetable is.”