Julius Randle refused to back down from Tyson Chandler on Sunday night, and both big men got technical fouls for trash talking.
“I don’t know. I was just trying to bring the energy,” the former University of Kentucky star said. “Maybe I was psyching myself up, I don’t know.”
Moments later, the crowd rose to its feet when Randle got the ball against Chandler on the perimeter in the closing minutes.
Instead of forcing a confrontation, Randle fed Jordan Clarkson for a decisive three-pointer.
The Los Angeles Lakers are young and headstrong, but they’re learning all the time.
And for just the second time in three years, they’re a winning team.
Nick Young scored 22 points, Clarkson added 18 and the Lakers moved above .500 with their third straight victory, 119-108 over the Phoenix Suns.
Two days after their stunning upset of Golden State, the Lakers (4-3) held off the Suns down the stretch despite Devin Booker’s career-high 39 points. Randle also scored 18 for the Lakers and assisted on that three by Clarkson with 1:27 left to seal it.
“The fact he did what he did was such a winning play on his part,” Los Angeles Coach Luke Walton said. “Unselfish. It’s everything we want. It’s him using his brain, him being competitive, him fighting for the team.”
There was no question in Randle’s mind that he would make the decision to pass the ball.
“Tyson was ready to take the challenge but there was no challenge,” Randle said. “I feel like I’m past that. I’m passed getting caught up in the emotions. I want to make winning basketball plays. That’s all it’s about.”
After three seasons of gradually increasing misery, the Lakers are young, fun and improving. They’re also unbeaten at home, winning three straight games at Staples Center for the first time since April 2013.
“We’re doing things the right way, and we’re starting to see some success,” Randle said. “We easily could have given up the lead, but we kept fighting. … That’s just my game. I don’t back down from anybody. I’m not afraid of nobody.”
Other than its season-opening victory last month, Los Angeles hadn’t had a winning record since the franchise was 10-9 on Dec. 6, 2013. The three worst seasons in team history followed, but Walton’s new Lakers are already injecting optimism into their huge fan base with up-tempo excitement and a quick start to the season.
“They’re a good team in transition, and we knew that coming in,” said Booker, who also had seven assists. “We had some mental breakdowns, and they took advantage of it.”