Earl Clark goes back to the bench

Few Lakers fans knew Earl Clark’s name at the start of the season. When injuries hit the team’s big men, Clark found himself in the starting lineup.

Now Pau Gasol’s return from a 20-game absence means a return to the bench for Clark, who has averaged 9.5 points and 7.3 rebounds as a starter.

“I’m going to be fine, man,” the easy-going Clark said Friday. “I think I did my job well. Pau, he’s a Hall of Famer. He makes a lot of money. The guy’s a two-time champion and I don’t know how many All-Star games [four]. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I think it’s just right for him to start.”

Clark, an energy and hustle player who also can hit from three-point range, heads to a sometimes-shaky reserve unit.

Clark was the fourth player off the bench Friday in the 103-100 loss to Washington, following Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks.


Clark entered with 9:45 left in the second quarter and finished with five points and one rebound. He didn’t play in the second half.

“I’m going to continue to give energy,” he said. “I’m just honored that Coach has given me a role on the team. I went from not playing to starting. That’s all I can ask for.”

Clark, 25, becomes a restricted free agent in July. He is making a relatively low $1.2 million this season. The NBA average is about $5.3 million.

Magic touch

Jerry West isn’t the only Lakers great who still has confidence in his former team.

Magic Johnson, one of the Lakers’ harshest critics this season, was optimistic about their chances in the playoffs.

“The Lakers, I’ll tell you what, they’re one of the most dangerous teams,” he said Friday. “They’ve got talent. And they’ve got two weeks to put it together, almost three weeks. They can still get this thing done.”

The Lakers have improved in recent weeks, overcoming a 17-25 start to get into playoff position.

“If they get the right matchup in that first round, they could cause a lot of heartaches for people,” Johnson said. “You have to remember in Miami, that first year, same thing, remember? They were up and down, looked great, looked bad. Then they went all the way to the final. This team still has time to get hot and get it together.”

Johnson is an executive with the Dodgers and visited the team Friday in Phoenix. He is also an unpaid vice president with the Lakers.

West said Thursday that the Lakers could be a fearsome playoff opponent despite an underwhelming regular season.

“I definitely wouldn’t want to play them, I know that,” West said. “I think they’d have a chance against anyone.”

Bresnahan reported from Los Angeles. Hernandez reported from Phoenix.