Here’s a practice roundup from Monday’s session in advance of the Lakers next game on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. vs. Milwaukee.
A rash of injuries to the Lakers frontcourt has opened up playing time for Earl Clark, who acknowledged he goes by the nickname “Eazy,” which might describe how naturally he plays basketball, if not the impressive intensity he’s showcased of late.
The Louisville product responded to his shot with a team-high nine rebounds at Houston, and then a breakout 22-point, and 13-rebound career game in L.A.’s 108-105 loss at San Antonio. In two starts since that game, Clark has averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.0 blocks.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work and to finally see it pay off feels good,” Clark said. “In professional sports, guys go down and get injured, and you have to try and step up and fill their shoes. I’m just trying to do the best I can and help us get some wins.”
But more than his contributions on the offensive end, coach Mike D’Antoni praised Clark’s efforts on the defensive end of the floor. In the last week, he’s matched up with point guards Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, as well as forwards Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan.
“He’s a guy that’s extremely versatile,” D’Antoni said. “He can guard twos, threes, fours and even switch to a five. He’s been doing a terrific job. We’re extremely happy where he is right now and hopefully he’ll keep progressing. His energy and length on defense – his body is just alive – is giving us a jolt.”
Defense Steps Up
After conceding nearly 112 points during their six-game skid, the Lakers limited the Cavaliers to 93 points on 41.1 percent from the floor.
D’Antoni credited the team’s improved play on that end, particularly certain individual performances.
“They were connected defensively,” D’Antoni said. “Then you can take individual efforts like Kobe (Bryant) on (Kyrie) Irving – his energy on the ball got them out of their patterns, and Steve (Nash) fighting guys off the boards and sacrificing his game to what’s better for the Lakers. The rest of the guys sprouted energy and we played hard.”
The team’s defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), with Earl Clark alongside Dwight Howard, in L.A.’s win against Cleveland, was 88.1 in 25 minutes. Post practice, Howard stated Clark’s difference on the defensive end.
“One thing that Earl (Clark) helps with is his energy,” Howard said. “I know he’s going to be behind me or I know he’s going to get up and guard his man to do whatever he can to stop him from scoring. That makes it a lot easier for the other guys when you have two guys back protecting the paint and playing with energy.”
Howard practiced and suffered no setbacks in his first game back in three games he missed with a tear of the labrum in his right shoulder. The big man posted 22 points and 14 rebounds in L.A.’s 113-93 victory.
“It felt good,” he acknowledged. “I was happy to be back on the floor, and happy we got a win.”
Asked if he suffered from any pain in his shoulder, Howard simply nodded no.
On the other hand, forward Pau Gasol will not play on Tuesday vs. Milwaukee, his fifth straight game missed because of a concussion suffered on Jan. 6 against Denver.
“We’re being extra cautious to make sure he’s OK,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
He will continue to be re-evaluated on a daily basis. The Lakers are 4-8 without the 7-foot Spaniard in the lineup.
Guard Steve Blake, who has been out a little more than two months after undergoing abdominal surgery in mid-November, is participating in shooting drills.
“There is no timetable or anything,” D’Antoni said. “He’s still a little better, but still no timetable.”