Lakers guards Alex Caruso (4) and Josh Hart (5) battle with Pacers center Domantas Sabonis (11) for a defensive rebound late in the fourth quarter of a game Friday at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forwards Julius Randle (30) and Corey Brewer (3) pressure Pacers forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) during a game Friday at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guards Jordan Clarkson (6) and Alex Caruso (4) react after he’s fouled on a three-point shot late in a game Friday against the Pacers at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Alex Caruso drives to the basket for a dunk against the Pacers during the first half of a game Friday at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Julius Randle and Pacers center Domantas Sabonis chase a loose ball during a game Friday at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson hits a reverse layup between Pacers guard Cory Joseph (6) and center Domantas Sabonis during a game Friday at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) loses the ball as he’s double-teamed by Pacers center Domantas Sabonis (11) and forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) during the first half of a game Friday at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Jordan Clarkson is available for teams that want to trade for him.
He was part of conversations with Indiana when the Lakers attempted to acquire Paul George this summer, and the Pacers went instead with a trade to Oklahoma City that netted them Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis.
So Friday night when the Lakers played the Pacers for the first time this season, with the trade deadline less than a month away, you’d forgive Clarkson for having a little extra motivation.
“Nah, I’m just hooping to be honest with you,” Clarkson said. “If I’m here, I’m gonna help them win games. Impact how I can. If I’m not, it is what it is.”
Whatever the reason, Clarkson scored a season-high 33 points Friday, leading the Lakers to a 99-86 win. He also added seven rebounds and seven assists, a performance that led his coach to suggest it was a game in which Clarkson wasn’t thinking about scoring. The Lakers won with defense, holding the Pacers to just two of 25 on threes and 38.1% shooting overall.
They won despite making only two of 14 free throws — both by Clarkson. They shot 14.3% from the line, the worst percentage in franchise history, and tied the fewest makes in any Lakers game.
Clarkson’s performance came at a time when the Lakers desperately needed it. They played without three injured starters — Lonzo Ball (knee), Brandon Ingram (ankle) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Achilles). They started Corey Brewer, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, Josh Hart and Tyler Ennis.
“Just knowing that everybody kind of ... banged up,” Clarkson said. “We didn’t have all our main guys. I had to step up. I knew what I had to do.”
The Lakers went into the game knowing Oladipo would be a key to Indiana’s offense, and that the short-handed Lakers would have to win with defense.
They did, holding their opponent under 100 points for the third time in a 5-2 stretch.
“I hope the lessons learned tonight are all about how important defense is,” coach Luke Walton said.
“Closed the floor,” Clarkson said. “We knew they were going to run a lot through Victor so we just closed the floor, tried to force turnovers and get out in transition.”
Clarkson was as big a part of that as any player. Coming off the bench, he gave the Lakers the spark they needed after a brutal finish to their three-game trip beat them up. And while Kuzma chuckled when asked if Clarkson stopped thinking about scoring on this night, Clarkson said he tried not to overthink his game at all.
“I was getting back to the basics, getting back to the gym,” Clarkson said. “Had a little struggle month, I feel like, with my shooting stuff, but hopefully this will turn around for me.”
Clarkson has shot 30% or less five times this month, including a two-for-13 performance at Memphis. But in Dallas he made nine of 18 shots and against the Pacers he made 14 of 19.
And while Clarkson is still the subject of trade rumors, he isn’t the only one fending off those concerns. Beyond Ingram, Ball and Kuzma, no one on the Lakers is safe.
“I try to talk to him a lot,” Walton said of Clarkson. “… Not just him, everyone. The message is always the same. … If you get traded, you get traded. We don’t coach as if you’re not going to be here. This is our group. This is who we try to coach.
“It’s not always easy but he’s continued even with the little bit of a shooting slump he’s been in. He keeps coming, getting shots up with coach [Jesse] Mermuys. Had a huge Dallas game for us obviously.
“Tonight we don’t win that game without the way he played.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli