In just three games, forward Earl Clark is showing why he can produce for the Lakers.
By JOE McDONNELLFS West
EL SEGUNDO — Earl Clark — savior?
Or is it: Earl Clark — savior!
His performance in the next 45 games will ultimately provide the answer. The
Lakers don’t necessarily need the versatile 6-foot-9 Clark to save them from playoff oblivion. They are, however, counting on him to replace the minutes — and production — of Jordan Hill.
Numbers-wise he’s been even better than the always-energized Hill, who is out for the rest of the season as he awaits surgery to repair a damaged left hip.
With Hill, Dwight Howard and
Pau Gasol all injured, the former Louisville star has averaged 33 minutes, 15 points and 10.6 rebounds in the past two games. Hill averaged 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 15.8 minutes.
After 24 DNPs this season, coach Mike D’Antoni started Clark on Friday night in a 116-101 loss to Oklahoma City at Staples Center and on Sunday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’ll probably remain as a starter until Gasol returns from his concussion, and says he’ll do whatever the Lakers need him to do for as long as they need him to do it.
“I just want to seize the opportunity,” the easy-going Clark said. “I work hard on my game, play as hard as I can and try to help my team win. Whatever (D’Antoni) asks me to do, I’ll do it. I don’t want to look back one day and say ‘coulda, shoulda.’ I wanted to make sure I gave it my best effort.”
That effort — along with a lot of desire — will be necessary because D’Antoni has some interesting plans for Clark on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s got unique talents,” D’Antoni said of Clark. “He can guard the three, the four — and the one. I do like his feet and his quickness, and he’ll definitely be part of the rotation.”
“I really like Kobe (Bryant) on the point guard,” said D’Antoni, backing off a little. “But he’ll back up Pau at the four, Metta (World Peace) at the three, and yeah, sometimes we’ll use him to guard the point. (Clark) on the ball is something we’ll do a little more. “
Having a big guy being able to guard a one could change the entire dynamic of a struggling Laker defense — if Clark is successful.
“Oh yeah,” D’Antoni said. “Something like that gives a coach a whole lot of weapons when you have a player who’s able to do a lot of things.”
Clark’s success since the rash of injuries has surprised a lot of people, including D’Antoni. It’s hasn’t been a revelation for the man himself, who just stayed ready for the moment that opportunity called.
“It was tough (mentally) — some days were better than others,” he said. “But the NBA is a business and it’s a job, too. I love what I do, so I just stayed in the gym and continued to be ready, because I know (my) name’s going to get called. There’s 82 games and I just wanted to answer the call.”
NOTES — Howard and Gasol were re-examined before the game against Cleveland. Howard was cleared to play while Gasol missed Sunday's game.