While the eye of the storm is still centered around Lakerland, the fact of the matter is that the team must come together and fight against the storm. Additionally, they must fight with urgency as time for a push is now. Sunday’s win against Cleveland provided a ton of positives. Yet, the margin of error remains almost nonexistent as the storm is trying to make its final hit to knockout the Lakers from any chance of a playoff spot.
It seems that Murphy’s Law has been experimenting with the Lakers this season. Just as one issue or problem is corrected or resolved, another one pops up, dragging morale of the players, organization and fans down along the way. For example, on January 7th, Lakers Nation was quite stunned to hear that essentially the entire Lakers’ frontcourt would be out for at least a week, including backup big man Jordan Hill.
Hill was injured the night before against the Denver Nuggets, when Kobe Bryant inadvertently stepped on his foot while trying to guard the Nuggets’ Andre Miller. Hill was in motion when Bryant stepped on his foot, causing Hill’s body to have an awkward reaction, which caused his hip joint to be pulled. According to the Lakers’ doctor Steve Lombardo, hip specialist Dr. Jason Snibbe and the results of an anthrogram test, Hill has “loose fragments in addition to a possible labral tear” in the hip, which will require surgery.
This is an extremely tough blow to the already ailing and struggling Lakers. When news broke of Hill’s test results on Friday, the blowout loss to Oklahoma City seemed to be put on the back burner. Hill’s surgery will most likely come with a six-month recovery process, which takes him out of the game for the entire season. As Steve Nash commented regarding Hill’s injury:
“I’m really, really disappointed for Jordan. He was one of the bright spots. I thought he was finding a really nice niche with the offense and his energy on the boards and on defense is always going to be great for our depth. It’s another big blow in a season of blows.”
“I’m a competitor … I take pride in going out there to help my team out,” said Hill. “I’ve probably never missed more than five games or four games. Just knowing that I’m never going to return, it definitely hit me. It definitely was a shock. I feel like I let down the team,” said Hill. “I let down the fans.”
First, I know I am speaking for all of Lakers Nation when I say that Hill has definitely not let down the fans. While the absence of Hill will have its impact, his effort, hustle, heart and persistence has been nothing but appreciated and welcomed by the fans. Hill is not considered an NBA superstar or isn’t a household name across the country. However, he has become a Laker fan favorite since his debut last season in the thrilling overtime OKC game.
What fans appreciate more than anything is effort, energy, and having heart to not give up. That is what Jordan Hill personified and will be missed most. Therefore, someone must step up to fill Hill’s spark on the court. Earl Clark is the most qualified player for that job. While his name would not have been mentioned a week ago, Clark’s performance has mirrored Hill’s emergence last season.
Basketball, especially at the professional level, is all about finding opportunities. After riding the Laker bench after being traded from Houston, Jordan Hill waited for his chance to prove his value and worth without complaint. Similarly, Earl Clark has played the role of a bench warmer and a cheerleader for this season, also without complaint. He saw some garbage time in some games, but a role was never defined for him.
Clark received his opportunity last Tuesday against Houston. While he didn’t have a great shooting night, Clark showed the effort, energy and hustle that all fans want from everyone of their team’s players. Having a forty point night may make the headlines or the highlight reel, but it is the intangibles like effort and energy that can change the game and win over the hearts of fans.
Clark’s 22 point and 13 rebound performance in San Antonio opened the eyes of many fans and more importantly, Mike D’Antoni. He quickly showed his versatility and abilities on both ends of the floor. Clark isn’t the most refined player. He isn’t the best player on the court. Yet, he provides that spark that his teammates can feed off of. He plays with heart, and with the Lakers struggling to play with heart and desire this season, that counts a lot to the fans.
Clark was one rebound shy of recording his third straight double-double on Sunday night. Overall, in the past four games Clark has stepped out with an impressive 12.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 30.5 minutes per game. Clark ‘s athleticism, speed and length have not only covered a lot of space on the floor, but his activeness off the ball has provided needed second chance opportunities that sparks the energy of his teammates. Nash added Monday on ESPN710:
Nash on Earl Clark: He’s got so many skills to add to the team. His versatility, his energy…he can really do good things for us
— ESPNLA 710 Radio (@ESPNLA710) January 15, 2013
Mike D’Antoni has assured that Clark will remain in the rotation, even after Pau Gasol returns to the lineup from his concussion. This will be critical for Clark to continue to provide that spark of energy off the bench, which was Jordan Hill’s primary role. It will also be critical for Clark to continue to be aggressive and insert himself on both ends of the floor to ensure that the Lakers’ frontcourt goes back to being the team’s top strength, regardless of a possible trade of Pau Gasol.
Clark’s presence surely resembles Jordan Hill’s presence starting late last season. When energy, effort and desire are questionable consistencies of a team as a whole, the value of a player who lives those characteristics every game is an absolute need. Earl Clark is making his minutes count, and it’s showing. The Lakers need to make a quick turnaround just to make the playoffs, and these characteristics are necessary to make that push.