With Pau Gasol on the verge of a return from his concussion, Coach Mike D'Antoni has to find a new role for Earl Clark.
Clark (6'10") emerged as a regular contributor and complement to Dwight Howard through Gasol's five-game absence, averaging a double-double with 11.2 points and 10 rebounds. He shot 50% from the field, dished 3.4 assists a game while blocking 1.6 shots.
D'Antoni praised Clark's ability to defend multiple positions, trusting him to guard the likes of high-scoring Monta Ellis of the Milwaukee Bucks and long-time all-star Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.
Before Gasol went down, Clark wasn't in the rotation.
"So many things went on that Earl got lost in the shop. The whole time he kept working," D'Antoni said. "Our assistant coach kept saying, 'His feet are good. His first steps are good.'"
"He kept a smile on his face and never gave up," continued D'Antoni. "I couldn't be happier that it worked out for him because he worked for it."
Clark has also earned the praise of his teammates.
"I love Earl. He comes in every day. He works hard," Howard said. "He got his opportunity and he's playing great. I'm real happy for him."
Clark has spent most of career frustrated at the lack of opportunity in Phoenix, Orlando and initially with the Lakers. Now D'Antoni has to make sure Clark is a major part of the rotation, regardless of how Gasol is worked back in.
"It's been a lot of fun," Clark said. "I've just been coming out here preparing myself to play well and getting with the coaches and I've just been trying to bring energy and I've been getting a lot of open shots playing with Dwight, Kobe [Bryant] and Steve Nash and I'm just trying to capitalize on that."
A five-game sample isn't significant enough to say Clark has truly arrived, but he's shown enough through that stretch to say he may be a major part in helping the Lakers (17-21) turn around their season.
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