Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks at Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers December 7, 2012 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma City defeated Los Angeles 114-108.
The Los Angeles Lakers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night at Staples Center. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, and Earl Clark get set to battle under the bright lights of Staples Center…wait. What?
That’s right, Lakers fans, the hopes of making the playoffs have fallen into the hands of rookie Robert Sacre and soft-spoken Earl Clark.
When Jim Buss, Jerry Buss, and Mitch Kupchak put together the Lakers’ "Super Team" this summer, they definitely expected to be in a nationally televised game against the defending Western Conference champs starting Earl Clark against Kevin Durant.
That is exactly how they planned this season.
The last time the Lakers met the Thunder, it was slightly over a month ago in a similarly nationally televised game on a Friday night. The Lakers held strong for the first quarter before Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant each scored 14 points in the second period to break the game wide open. The Lakers fought back to catch a glimpse of daylight late in the game, but they never truly had a chance at completing the comeback.
The Dec. 7 loss to the Thunder kicked off a four-game losing streak for the Lakers. Following that, the Lakers rattled off five wins in a row. Entering Friday, the Lakers are now on a season-worst five-game losing streak.
To say the Lakers have been streaky this season would be a fair assessment, but saying they have been consistently poor with defense and energy is probably being more honest.
The Lakers have not been good this season, and the Lakers have been hit hard with injuries to compound their struggles.
Currently, the Lakers’ front line is decimated. Dwight Howard (shoulder) and Jordan Hill (hip) remain unavailable to the team. Pau Gasol (concussion) was ruled out on Friday morning following his second examination in as many days.
With the preferred starting frontline injured the past two games, the Lakers managed to find unexpected contributions from the unheralded duo of Earl Clark and Robert Sacre.
Sacre was pulled straight from the D-League to start due to a lack of options. Clark, however, played his way into the Lakers rotation with 22 points and 13 rebounds against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
Lakers’ head coach Mike D’Antoni confirmed that both Sacre and Clark will start on Friday night.
Neither player has much NBA experience, but both provided energy and hope when the Lakers needed it most. Unfortunately, that energy was not enough to earn wins in San Antonio or Houston,. The Lakers are hoping for a different result at Staples Center against the Thunder.
Oklahoma City is half a game back of the Clippers for the best record in the league. Safe to say, OKC is a better team even when the Lakers are fully healthy—which is never.
However, the newly anointed saviors of the Lakers, Clark and Sacre, provide some known qualities the Lakers have been missing all season: hunger, fight, and energy.
Even more importantly, Clark and Sacre represent relatively unknown quantities. Consequently, the duo’s unknown talent and skill embody hope for Lakers fans in a season where not much has gone right.
Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are known quantities, and those two alone are not enough to overcome Durant, Westbrook, and the Thunder. All this is known, but Sacre and Clark—that’s hope.