After starting 17-25, the Lakers are now 16-5 in their last 21 contests, playing at a .714 clip. Because of a wealth of injuries to the Lakers front line, Earl Clark was thrusted into unexpected minutes, but became a huge component in the Lakers recent turn around.
Clark’s monthly splits in January and February were fantastic. After averaging 10.3 points and 8.4 rebounds in January, he followed up with a decent February — 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Clark’s production has fallen off a bit since the last week in February and has let the slide in performance pour over to the four games in March. Since February 24, Clark has recorded a pedestrian 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds on 40 percent shooting, and head coach Mike D’Antoni thinks he may have run into a bit of a wall according to the Los Angeles Times:
“He’s hit a wall a little bit of late,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’re trying to cut his minutes a little bit to get him re-energized so that he can have a big finish. I think it’s normal. You can’t play that level all the time. He’s coming down a little bit and hopefully he’ll rebound.”
Clark’s dip in production isn’t just a numbers thing, as the stats have matched the eye-test on the floor. Clark has lost a bit of the energy that we saw when he was first thrusted into a more prominent role.
This comes natural with younger players, especially ones who hadn’t experienced significant minutes in previous seasons. The wear and tear on a player’s body during the course of grueling 82-game season is a real variable in terms of actual game-time production.
There are some other variables that should also be taken into account when looking at why Clark has struggled. The absence of Pau Gasol has increased his minutes even more than his original bump in playing time. Kobe Bryant has moved out of his facilitator mentality that we saw in late January, early February, taking away some of Clark’s scoring opportunities.
Lastly, the fact that Clark’s defensive responsibilities have grown over the last few weeks also contributes to his lack of offensive production. There have been several nights where Clark was tasked to defend the opposing team’s best player (he’s seen time on LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Josh Smith, Dirk Nowitzki and Blake Griffin in recent weeks).
While the notional wall that Clark has hit is natural for a player in his circumstances, the Lakers are going to need Clark to get back to form as they approach the post season. The Lakers success and Clark’s performance aren’t exactly mutually exclusive, but he’s going to be an important cog for the Lakers down the stretch.