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The Clark Knight rises for the LA Lakers

Rohith Nair
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 11 Feb 2013, 20:02 IST
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Around this time last year, Mike D’Antoni was coaching the New York Knicks. When faced with injuries to his primary guards, he played a little known Chinese-American point guard who eventually went on to set the NBA on fire with performances that rivalled those of most MVPs. Be it double-doubles even when up against All-Star players or nail biting buzzer beaters, Jeremy Lin gave hope to bench warmers who almost believed they weren’t good enough to cut it in a competitive league like the NBA. Linsanity took the world by storm and Lin’s performances helped turn around the New York Knicks’ season to such an extent that he even made it to the cover of TIME magazine.

Fast forward to this season and D’Antoni found himself in a similar situation with the Los Angeles Lakers when they played the Denver Nuggets in January. Pau Gasol’s nose had an unfortunate run in with JaVale McGee’s elbow, which gave Gasol a concussion. At the same time, the Lakers also lost Dwight Howard to a shoulder injury (a torn labrum) and to make matters worse, Jordan Hill pulled his hip in the game which ultimately required surgery to fix. In the span of one game, the Lakers had lost their big men in one fell swoop.

Enter, Earl Clark.

Los Angeles Lakers v Charlotte Bobcats

Clark had been part of the trade move that saw Howard come to the Lakers and up until January, he had hardly played enough minutes to total one full game. But in a game against the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers turned to Earl Clark to grab boards and get some points in the paint. And he delivered! He injected energetic pace into an ageing Lakers offence and finished the night with his first double-double for the Lakers (22 points and 13 rebounds) in a loss that had plenty of positives. It was a “phenomenal performance” according to D’Antoni, who hoped he’d unearthed another talent from a supposedly weak bench.

Clark was rewarded with more game time in subsequent games. And since then, he hasn’t looked back. At a time when the Lakers’ season looked to be headed downhill, struggling to get victories under their belt, Clark inspired the purple-and-gold with a series of blistering performances that snapped what could have potentially become a prolonged losing streak. Ever since Clark’s performances began to improve, the Lakers have won 7 of the 10 games played.

We’d be in deep crap,” said Kobe Bryant when asked where the Lakers would be without Earl Clark.

In previous seasons, he had only started one game in five years. With the Lakers, he has now started 16 games in 6 weeks! He has completely shredded his averages and added more double-doubles to his tally. His Points Per Game (PPG) has doubled and his Rebounds Per Game has tripled! In fact, in the Lakers’ last game against the Miami Heat, Clark played more minutes than any other player on the court, and among the Lakers, looked the closest to getting a double-double with 18 points and 9 rebounds.

His hunger and ‘play hard’ attitude gave the Lakers a much needed presence in the front court and even after Gasol’s return to the team, Clark remains a starter. In February alone, he averages more than 13 points and a shade below 10 rebounds per game. And that’s not all. He has also impressed on the defensive end of the floor. When asked to guard opponent forwards, he’s restricted them to less than 13 PPG.

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“He’s earned a lot of trust and he can guard everybody,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “He can guard from the point guard to the centre. It’s invaluable to have somebody like that.”

His numbers don’t exactly come close to those of Lin. But almost overnight, Earl Clark has become the hero the LA Lakers deserve, and he’s definitely the one they need right now. And what would he say to that?

“I think I’m just a basketball player. I’m just having fun, man, just playing basketball.”

Published 11 Feb 2013, 20:02 IST
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