When the Lakers were at their lowest point this season, Earl Clark emerged as an unlikely contributor. He would go on to take over starting duties over Pau Gasol, but as time wore on, the grind of the NBA season caught up with Clark.
Upon Gasol’s return last Friday, Clark was demoted to a bench role, and his minutes appeared to be trending downward as Gasol’s minutes were expected to increase with every game.
With Antawn Jamison playing at a high level, Gasol’s return effectively pushed Clark from starter to third-choice forward. However, Jamison suffered a sprained right wrist in Friday’s loss to the Washington Wizards, and that may bring Clark back into the fold.
Initial X-rays came back negative, but an MRI performed on Saturday confirmed a sprained wrist.
Jamison said he would play through the pain, and he was happy with the ongoing recovery.
"Each day, it’s feeling a lot better," Jamison said at Sunday’s practice. "I’ve played through pain before, so I just think, initially, these first two road games, I might have to play with pain, but after that, I should be back to normal."
The 36-year-old forward even took part in shootaround on Monday morning. Jamison expects to be the first player off the Lakers bench in Monday night’s game at the Golden State Warriors.
If Jamison’s injury does not progress or gets worse, the Lakers will likely look to Clark to come in and play some of Jamison’s minutes. Whereas Jamison is an offensive scorer and cutter, Clark provides the Lakers with a younger and more athletic defensive presence.
Another key difference between the two forwards is the 3-point shot. Jamison shot 9-17 from behind the arc in the Lakers’ last two wins. Clark is five of his last 20 from behind the arc, and his long-range shot has abandoned him recently, possibly a sign of fatigue.
For the moment, Jamison appears optimistic that this latest injury will not deter his ability to contribute at a high level for the remainder of this season.
However, if that were to change, Clark’s 33 starts this season could do wonders should the Lakers need the 25-year-old to play extended minutes down the home stretch or in the playoffs.