LOS ANGELES — When Julius Randle was selected in the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery by the Lakers he imagined times like these, when the Lakers were championship contenders and the biggest show in basketball.
Jack Nicholson is still courtside, as are the usual assortment of Hollywood celebrities. And the Lakers are once again loaded with star power on the court, easing to a 117-87 win over the Knicks, dropping New York to 0-3 on the current trip with one last stop tonight in Utah.
The Knicks started the game without Marcus Morris, who was nursing a sore neck, and lost Bobby Portis in the first quarter after he was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul. Portis swiped viciously at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a layup, hitting him across the back of his head. Reggie Bullock was later called for a Flagrant 1 after spinning JaVele McGee to the floor.
“I went for the ball,” Portis said. “I tried to block the ball, I missed it and I hit him in the head. My apologies to Caldwell-Pope, happy to see him go out there and do his thing, come back into the game and impact the game in a positive way. My intention was never to hit him in the head. Was just going for the ball and that happened."
The harshest blow came for the Lakers late in the third quarter when Randle drove to the basket and was met by Anthony Davis, the two getting tangled up and Davis falling awkwardly and landing hard on his back. He was down on the floor for a long time before finally being helped to his feet and hobbling to the locker room. The Lakers said X-rays were negative and he suffered a sacral contusion, the area just above the tailbone.
Randle had 15 points with 10 rebounds and went 5-for-16 shooting for the Knicks, but they never felt like they were in the game. RJ Barrett had 19 points and Elfrid Payton added 12. LeBron James led the Lakers with 31 points.
But for Randle, his time in Los Angeles never was like this his rookie season ended after one game when he suffered a fractured tibia on opening night and the Lakers didn’t seem to last much longer, winning just 21 games. He was healthy the next season, but the Lakers weren’t — winning just 17 games and finishing with the worst record in the Western Conference.
There were 25 and 35 win seasons to follow before he was set free to sign elsewhere as the Lakers shifted plans and cleared cap space to remake the roster into the powerhouse that emerged this season, already with 30 wins against just seven losses, more wins than they had in any of his first three seasons. He returned to face the Lakers Tuesday night with no hard feelings, no regrets.
“The fans are always amazing,” Randle said. “I got drafted here. It’s always going to hold a special place in my heart. … It’s a place I got drafted. I spent four years of my career here. From the fan perspective and my team it was a great experience.
“Do I wish it would have worked out differently? Honestly, man, I don’t get into the what ifs and all that type of stuff. It worked out how it was supposed to. I’m happy where I’m at now. Everything in life happens for a reason. You go through things for a reason. The highs and lows in life, that happens for a reason. It’s made me the person I am today and I’m extremely happy to be a Knick.”
Now after a one-year stop in New Orleans alongside Davis, who is an MVP candidate for the Lakers, he is in New York and has the sort of role he imagined years ago. The ball is in his hands, serving as the leader of the Knicks — but very much feeling like the losing years in L.A.
While Davis has teamed up with James to form a powerhouse Lakers squad that seems up to the shiny championship trophies that overlook the practice court, serving as a reminder of the franchise history, Randle is the centerpiece of a seven-player free agent class that hasn’t exactly turned the Knicks’ fortunes, dropping to 10-27 with Tuesday’s loss.
“You’ve got to go through highs and lows,” Randle said. “You’ve got to go through adversity and different types of situations to make you grow as a person and as a player and it’s definitely what this season has done. It’s definitely helped me grow from a mindset standpoint. As a leader it’ll do dividends helping me going along as my career goes on, as the season goes on. Yeah I’m definitely getting more comfortable and confident in that role.”
“I think he’s playing well,” Davis said of Randle. “Obviously, when you’re that No. 1 option all the attention is on you and it’s something he never really had to deal with. I talked to him a little bit about it. It’s something you’ve got to get used to. The more and more he gets to play that role the more he’ll figure it out.”