Lakers forward Earl Clark saves the ball from going out of bounds against… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
His name is Earl. His game is struggling.
The darling of the Lakers a month ago, Earl Clark has faded recently, failing to hit double-digit scoring in six of the last seven games while trying to adapt to the biggest opportunity of his NBA life.
If a player can hit the rookie wall in his fourth NBA season, it's happening now.
He started his 23rd consecutive game Friday against the Toronto Raptors and finished with two points and two rebounds in the Lakers' 118-116 victory.
Earlier this week against Oklahoma City, Clark was on the bench for the start of the second half.
Are these the first signs of the end of his run?
"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 averaged 10.3 points and 8.4 rebounds in January and followed it up with 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in February despite tailing off at the end of the month.
March has been a different drumbeat for Clark, 25, a restricted free agent making a relatively low $1.2 million this season.
D'Antoni tried to remain upbeat about the same player he called "the brightest spot we've had this year" a few weeks ago.
"He's got it. It's just a matter of, he's never played this many games at this level with the importance of every game," D'Antoni said. "I think it's slipped a little bit, but there's no reason why he doesn't pick it back up."
After the Phoenix Suns took him 14th overall in the 2009 draft, Clark averaged 3.1 points his first three seasons with the Suns and Orlando.
He played every other game on average and it was short-lived when he did (10 minutes a game), a pittance compared to the work he put in for the Lakers since breaking out with a 22-point, 13-rebound game against San Antonio in January.
Pau Gasol ran on an "anti-gravity" treadmill Friday, another step in his return from a tear in the bottom of his right foot.
He missed his 14th game with the injury and will be out at least another 1½ weeks.
D'Antoni thinks about his return often.
"About every day," he said. "When he comes back, he's obviously going to be a big part of what we do and getting him back to the level he was at when he got hurt. If he does that, he's going to help a heck of a lot."
So he could start in place of Clark?
"We don't need to go there yet, do we?" D'Antoni said. "We can have that [discussion] later on."
Gasol wasn't shooting well (45.4%) but he was averaging 13.4 points, eight rebounds and 3.6 assists.
The anti-gravity treadmill allows users to essentially decrease their body weight because of an air-pressure chamber enveloping the lower body and reducing a jogger's impact on the treadmill.
Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this report.