HONOLULU — Nothing stood in Julius Randle’s way as he leaped toward the basket.
The Lakers’ forward had an open lane to throw down a thunderous dunk after D’Angelo Russell threw a no-look bounce pass. Randle felt fully comfortable bulldozing his way inside with his brute strength. And he no longer looked limited with a surgically repaired right leg that left him sidelined for nearly his entire rookie season.
But then Utah forward Trevor Booker fouled Randle from behind, sending the Lakers’ forward crashing down on the same leg that he injured nearly 11 months ago. Hence, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant could not leap out his seat fast enough to attend to Randle.
“You damn right I did,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 90-71 preseason loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Stan Sheriff Center. “If I was fast enough to catch him, I would.”
The incident may have left the Lakers skittish. But it left Randle amused as he recalled thinking “nothing” as he took a fall that sparked gasps among the nearly partisan 10,300 watching in person and the countless purple and gold faithful observing around the world.
“I was fine,” Randle said. “I didn’t think I hurt myself or anything. I came down on my right leg, didn’t I? I think I came down on my right leg. I was more worried about getting back up.”
Randle only posted seven points on 2-of-10 shooting in 21 minutes as the Lakers collectively only shot 28.9 percent from the field. But Randle moved with much more fluidity than he did during Summer League play. Then, Randle averaged 11.4 points on 39.5 percent shooting. He often tried too hard both to show off his jump shot on the perimeter and his imposing physicality inside. Randle publicly admitted frustration on the Lakers sitting him on a back-to-back game and averaging 20.5 minutes per contest.
“I felt a lot more comfortable than I did in Summer League,” Randle said. “It felt good because I didn’t feel like I had to force things. All the looks that I got that I missed, they felt good. I felt comfortable being out there. I didn’t feel like I forced anything. The shots just didn’t fall.”
Even through his poor jump shooting, Randle showed why Lakers coach Byron Scott preferred starting him over veteran Brandon Bass. Although Scott insisted he views the competition as far from over, Scott gave the edge to Randle because of his versatile playmaking.
“I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Randle said. “It’s natural for me. It feels good to be back out there doing it again.”
Randle showed that off in various instances.
He played the pick-and-roll game well with Russell, who immediately set Randle up for an open dunk on his first assist. Randle quickly drew a foul on one play after marching into the lane mere seconds after picking up the ball at the right elbow. He also blocked a shot and successfully fought for a loose ball.
“He’s an animal man,” Bryant said. “He’s competitive, extremely athletic and strong as a bull. That’s a great combination.”
It also became a great combination that Randle did not appear worried about becoming susceptible to injury on his fall, a feeling that turned out to be true moments later.
Said Randle: “It would’ve been a shame if I put in all the work to get back and I went out there and was timid and scared.”