A sluggish shooting performance and a lack of available players left Lakers coach Byron Scott trying something he had considered for nearly a week.
Scott featured Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle on the floor together in the Lakers’ 86-74 loss on Sunday to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, adding a dynamic between the two beyond competing for minutes at the power forward spot.
“I loved it personally,” Nance Jr. said. “That adds youth and athleticism on the court. You got two guys that want to run the break and want to crash the glass offensively and get every defensive rebound. Personally, I love it and look forward toward playing on the same unit as him more. Hopefully we get to see it.”
Will Nance Jr. receive his wish? It seems likely as Scott has expressed in recent days the consideration to feature Nance Jr at the small forward spot, while Randle mans the power forward position. But will it happen as quickly as when the Lakers (8-31) host the New Orleans Pelicans (11-25) on Tuesday at Staples Center? That’s less certain.
A combination of Kobe Bryant (right Achilles), D’Angelo Russell (right ankle) and Brandon Bass (right eye) might heal from their respective injuries. Perhaps the Lakers recall Tarik Black and Ryan Kelly from the D-Fenders. Scott described the Nance Jr. and Randle pairing as only “okay” for legitimate reasons.
The pairing played 16 minutes together and netted an offensive rating of 88.2 and a defensive rating of 101.3, which is slightly better than the Lakers’ season-averages on offense (81.7) and defense (107.7).
“Watching them out there, they looked pretty good,” said Scott, though he planned to watch more tape. “I thought they did a good job of communicating and being active. They could’ve been more active on both ends of the floor. But for the first time for those guys to be out there together, I thought it was okay.”
Randle and Nance Jr. offered some positive signs once they began playing together with 8:47 left in the second quarter. Before Randle left the game with 4:29 left in the second quarter to get a bone bruise in his right foot treated, Nance Jr.’s presence gave Randle enough space for an open 5-foot shot. Once the pair played together again with 4:02 left in the third quarter, Randle had plenty of room to convert on a reverse layup while Nance Jr. patrolled the paint. In the fourth quarter, Randle and Nance Jr. finished at the rim on consecutive possessions.
“We both competed and we both going to go out there and play hard. It was fun,” Randle said of the pairing. “For the first time, it wasn’t bad. We have to build chemistry and stuff like that. But we’ll be fine.”