Lakers’ Earl Clark draws praise
A slightly less heralded Laker nudged his way into the spotlight Tuesday night alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson.
His name is Earl Clark, and his fame in NBA circles is burgeoning.
“You saw the game,” veteran Dallas guard Vince Carter said after Clark helped the Lakers emerge with a 101-81 victory over the Mavericks at Staples Center. “He did everything. He was as big as their stars.”
Clark had 17 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high five blocks, the forward reappearing in a big way after a string of mostly forgettable performances since his midseason breakthrough.
It was the most rebounds he had collected in more than a month. It was the most points he had scored in nearly two months.
“It’s been there,” Bryant said. “He’s played great for us 85% of the time he’s been in there. He had a little bit of a tough stretch there, but we believe that he is a fantastic player and he has nights like this more often than not.”
Clark nearly repelled the Mavericks by himself late in the third quarter. He had a layup, a three-point basket and an assist to Antawn Jamison for another layup on successive possessions, earning a spirited high-five from Bryant after the Lakers had restored a 12-point cushion.
“I just tried to bring a lot of energy, help my team win in whatever way I can,” Clark said. “It was a must-win for us.”
Another must for the Lakers over their final seven regular-season games: receiving more consistency from Clark, who had scored in single digits in nine of the 10 games before Tuesday.
A seldom-used reserve in his first three professional seasons in Phoenix and Orlando, Clark has worn down a bit during a season in which he has set career highs in games (52) and minutes per game (22.9). The latter figure nearly doubles his previous best.
“If we can keep that right there,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said, referring to Clark’s performance against the Mavericks, “that’s where he was two months ago and won us a lot of games.”
How tweet it is
Bryant had feared a bad performance in front of Jackson could prompt a critical text message from his former coach.
His triple-double against the Mavericks earned a complimentary tweet instead.
“Kobe almost pitched a perfect game tonite,” Jackson, who returned to Staples Center to participate in O’Neal’s jersey retirement ceremony, tweeted after the game. “I know you did it for us, Mamba — Shaq and Lakers Nation — just spectacular.”
Bryant appeared to glance in Jackson’s direction after several plays, including a one-handed dunk in the second quarter.
“I tried to make sure I was on [my] Ps and Qs,” Bryant said afterward, “because if I wasn’t I know I’d get a long text from him asking me what the hell I was doing out there, so I tried to make sure I was as sharp as possible.”
The Lakers did not practice Wednesday.
Times staff writer Melissa Rohlin contributed to this report.
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