Jordan Clarkson wasn’t sure why he played so well Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets.
He likes scary movies, so he watched the horror flick “The Conjuring 2” during the day, and later wondered if maybe that was why.
Or maybe it was the fried chicken dinner from Carolina fast food chain Bojangles that he brought to a team movie night Friday.
“That’s probably one of the reasons,” Clarkson said. “I got to start eating my fried chicken the day before.”
More likely it was the way he has embraced his role as a sixth man for the Lakers. On Saturday night Clarkson came off the bench to lead the Lakers with 22 points, 14 of them in a fourth quarter the Lakers dominated. The Lakers defeated the Hornets 110-99, running away with the game on the strength of a late 19-5 run.
“It’s just slowing down, to be honest with you,” Clarkson said. “That’s it. Just chilling. Getting to the basket, trying to make plays for my teammates, but that’s it. Just going out there, trying to hoop.”
Three starters saw no fourth-quarter playing time — Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez and Larry Nance Jr. The Lakers joined starters Brandon Ingram and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with Clarkson, Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma off the bench to close out the game.
“I was planning on throwing Zo and Brook back in the game,” coach Luke Walton said. “But the way the momentum was going we stuck with the group that was out there, and they got the job done for us and our team got the victory, which is the most important thing.”
The win was the Lakers’ second in a row, after a five-game losing streak, making them 2-0 on a four-game trip. After starting in Philadelphia, they’ll now travel to New York and Cleveland. The Lakers improved to 10-15 while the shorthanded Hornets fell to 9-16.
Ingram, playing in his home state, scored 18 points. Kuzma had his eighth double-double with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. He had a plus-minus rating of 21. Ball finished with five points, five rebounds and nine assists.
“I felt good,” Ball said. “That’s what the team’s for. When JC came in, he was cookin’ tonight. We rolled with him, and I’m glad we did.”
Clarkson was a starter for the Lakers in the 2015-16 season under then-coach Byron Scott. Last year he came off the bench for most of the season, then entered the starting lineup late in the year.
In this offseason, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson challenged Clarkson to become the league’s sixth man of the year. It was a summer during which Clarkson saw himself offered in a trade and one during which he realized that all he could do was be himself and control his own play.
He embraced the Lakers’ request that he reach for that sixth-man prize. And he has entered games this season cognizant of the fact that he’ll have limited minutes to make his mark.
Clarkson didn’t enter Saturday’s game until late in the first quarter for Caldwell-Pope. The Hornets rode their stars and the Lakers’ lackluster defense in that first half. Former Lakers center Dwight Howard scored 15 points in the first half and Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker added 14 first-half points.
In the second half, Lopez and Caldwell-Pope changed the Lakers’ defensive intensity. Howard scored only six points and the Hornets shot 38%.
And as the Hornets’ fortunes turned, the Lakers turned on a killer instinct they haven’t had lately.
“We ran the same play every single time,” Kuzma said. “Dwight is not really a great pick and roll defender, so we tried to attack that weakness of their defense and it went well for us.”
Clarkson drained a three-pointer with 2:28 left in the game and Spectrum Arena began to ring out with a “Let’s go Lakers” chant.
Clarkson’s basket gave the Lakers a 15-point lead, their largest of the night.
“I thought JC had maybe the best quarter I’ve seen him play, an all-around quarter,” Walton said. “They kept switching their defense up and he kept taking what the defense gave him. Which is what you want to do. That’s what you do as you mature in this league.”
Why did he have his best quarter?
“Knowing I’ve got to come in there, just keeping focused, get to sleep early,” Clarkson said. “Just chill, watch movies, go to my favorite restaurants the day before, eat some pizza, drink some grape soda. Just kind of chill. Come in the game, you’ve got to impact those short minutes. … Just staying chill, being me, man. That’s all I can be.”
He’s comfortable now and the Lakers are reaping the rewards.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli