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Luke Walton watches UCLA win and says, 'They’re playing some good basketball there'

Luke Walton watches UCLA win and says, 'They’re playing some good basketball there'
Lakers Coach Luke Walton chats with former NBA teammate Lamar Odom during the first half of UCLA's game against Washington on Tuesday at Pauley Pavilion. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Donning a Lakers ball cap on Wednesday night, Coach Luke Walton sat in the first row behind the UCLA bench at Pauley Pavilion.

Like most of the crowd assembled to watch No. 2 UCLA play Washington, Walton was hoping to see the two top point guards in college basketball duel. Washington's Markelle Fultz sat out because of a sore knee, so UCLA's Lonzo Ball got the stage all to himself in front of the Lakers coach and other members of the organization.

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This wasn't a business trip.

"I've been hearing UCLA games are a fun environment," Walton said. "Went to check it out. They're playing some good basketball there."

Walton attended the game — won by UCLA, 98-66 — with Lakers assistant coach Jesse Mermuys. Elsewhere in the arena were Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell, who sat courtside beneath one basket, and rookie Brandon Ingram.

As a fan of basketball, Walton watches plenty and tries to force himself not to watch with a critical eye.

"If I have a free night to watch basketball, I'd rather just try my best to sit there and enjoy watching the game," Walton said. "We have a whole scouting department that's been watching them all year. We have European scouts, all that stuff. When the time comes, we'll take the appropriate amount of time to sit down and watch it from more of a scout's view than from when I casually have the game on if I'm at dinner."

He succeeds about half the time. Often, Walton will absent-mindedly try to rewind games he's watching on hotel televisions, to get another look at the play a team ran.

He's seen Ball and UCLA play a few times this year. The Lakers had the night off in Milwaukee when UCLA beat Oregon. But watching UCLA is not always a pleasant experience for Walton. The Bruins beat Arizona, Walton's alma mater, in Tucson on Saturday.

"They stopped us with a zone so I wasn't very happy about that," Walton said. "We got them in UCLA so we'll see what happens in the Pac-12 [Conference] tournament."

Energetic Randle

The secret to Julius Randle's 23-point, 18-rebound, six-assist performance Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets was pretty simple.

"I just been focused on eating the right things," Randle said. "Just conditioning, trying to push myself. Coach tried to push me to continue to get in great shape. I just try to get in better shape every day and focus on conditioning so I can sustain those periods for a longer time."

Randle's intensity and energy are hallmarks of his game when he is playing his best. But throughout the season, the Lakers coaches have noticed those bursts of energy interwoven with more lackluster spurts.

Typically, Walton notices Randle needing a break after playing for six minutes. Against the Hornets, that didn't happen.

"I just was aggressive from the beginning on both ends of the court," Randle said. "Coach just told me to be aggressive and I tried to stay locked in the whole game."

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Metta memories

To this day, people around town thank Metta World Peace for his role in the Lakers' 2010 NBA championship.

In Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, World Peace  made a three-pointer to give the Lakers a six-point lead with a minute left in the game.

"That was cool," World Peace said. "Big shot. The fans remember it. When I walk the street sometimes the fans still talk about that shot. I appreciate it. Miss or make, I'm happy with the shot. But there's a new Boston team."

World Peace noted the passing of time in the changing faces of rap music.

"Seven years ago was Jay Z, now it's Lil Uzi Vert," World Peace said. "Seven years ago was Mobb Deep, now it's Chief Keef. Some of these guys were still getting their butt whupped for eating too much candy [seven years ago]. Now it's a new time."

UP NEXT

VS. BOSTON CELTICS

When: 7:30 p.m., Friday

Where: Staples Center

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

Records: Lakers 19-42; Celtics 39-22

Record vs. Celtics: 0-1

Update: The Lakers are 5-5 against Eastern Conference opponents at Staples Center this year. Walton has a healthy appreciation for the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. His father played for the Celtics, causing a 6-year-old Walton to decide he hated the Lakers. Walton also played in two NBA Finals for the Lakers against the Celtics, in 2008 and 2010. And though he still believes this rivalry matters, he recognizes that his young team might not think that it resonates. "Probably not as much as they should or they will the longer they're in this league," Walton said. "They'll get to know it."

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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