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Julius Randle’s a different player one year after leg fracture

Lakers forward Julius Randle beats Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio to a rebound in the second half Wednesday night.

Lakers forward Julius Randle beats Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio to a rebound in the second half Wednesday night.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Just one game into the season, second-year forward Julius Randle more than doubled his minutes played as a rookie.

The Kentucky forward, the Lakers’ seventh overall pick in 2014, broke his leg just 14 minutes into last year’s opener in a loss to the Houston Rockets.

His season was over before it began, with just two points scored on three shot attempts, one turnover and one foul. He also missed his only two free throws.

After a long rehabilitation, Randle worked his way back through summer league and the preseason. On Wednesday, he battled veteran Kevin Garnett (now in his 21st year) and the Minnesota Timberwolves in a close 112-111 Lakers’ loss.

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Randle played an effective 30 minutes, notching a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. While he made only five of his 13 shots, Randle sank five of his six free throws and dished two assists with a turnover.

Career highs across the board, but Randle was disappointed the Lakers gave up a 16-point lead.

"[We] lost our edge,” he said. “We didn’t finish the game.”

But Randle did finish the game, something he physically couldn’t do a year ago; his injury all but took the wind out of the Lakers’ sails before they had gotten through a single contest. The team went on to win just 21 of 82 games.

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In stretches on Wednesday, the Timberwolves couldn’t handle Randle.

Garnett, a noted trash talker, tried to rattle Randle’s cage.

Randle didn’t back down, and Garnett was called for a technical foul.

“He’s KG ... That’s his thing. That’s what he does, [he] tries to get in people’s heads,” said Randle. “I’m not scared of anybody.”

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Less than two minutes later, Randle noticed Garnett was facing the opposite direction while Randle was trying to inbound the ball. Instead, the 20-year-old bounced the ball off the 39-year-old All-Star’s back, catching it himself.

Kobe Bryant made a three-pointer to give the Lakers a 13-point lead -- one that would ultimately fade away.

Randle has impressed the Lakers with his work ethic, reshaping his body by shedding some baby fat while adding necessary muscle.

Last October, Randle was very much a rookie on the court, searching for how to play in a man’s league after just one year of college.

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The Lakers as a franchise are searching for a place in the NBA. Randle has quickly established himself as one of the team’s best players.

With Bryant in his 20th and likely final season, the Lakers need their youth to mature quickly and Randle has shown that he takes that obligation very seriously.

Yes, the Lakers lost the game Wednesday, but seeing Randle knock out a double-double in 30 minutes, the Lakers will take that as a win.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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