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Xavier Henry could be the X factor for the Lakers

BEN BOLCH / ON THE NBA

After three injury-plagued seasons with Memphis and New Orleans, Henry has been an early bright spot for Lakers.

November 02, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • Lakers guard Xavier Henry is tended to by team trainer Gary Vitti after receiving a cut to the head in the second quarter against the Spurs on Nov. 1 at Staples Center. The Lakers lost to the Spurs, 91-85.
Lakers guard Xavier Henry is tended to by team trainer Gary Vitti after receiving… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Xavier Henry stood under the basket, a two-inch gash on his forehead, a smile on his lips.

His blood was still being sopped from the Staples Center court as Lakers trainer Gary Vitti pressed a towel against the cut, the fabric doing little to stop the bleeding. Soon a black bandage was wrapped in several tight loops around the swingman's head.

It all seemed like a great fuss about nothing to Henry, who cackled before shooting the two free throws he was due for being fouled by San Antonio's Jeff Ayres, not to mention the unwelcome collision involving his head and teammate Wesley Johnson's knee.

Henry's amusement despite sustaining a wound that would require nine stitches did not surprise his mother, watching Friday's game on television from her home in Oklahoma City.

"Anybody who knows Xavier," Barbara Henry said Saturday morning, "he will always have a smile on his face."

For once, it seems the NBA world is finally smiling back.

Labeled a disappointment after three injury-plagued seasons, Henry could be the training-camp invitee who never wears out his welcome.

Providing energy and assertiveness along with 13 points a game, he is the biggest surprise of a Lakers bench that has largely outplayed its starting counterparts through the season's first three games.

"He's a good example of guys that need to get to a certain point in their life where now it clicks," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said of the 22-year-old former lottery draft pick. "And when it clicks, it's pretty good."

Henry scored a career-high 22 points in the Lakers' opener, leading a bench barrage that overwhelmed the Clippers with 41 points in the fourth quarter. He scored in nearly every conceivable way, with three-pointers and one-handed dunks and mid-range jumpers and driving layups in which he shrewdly drew contact.

He followed it with 14 points against Golden State and then helped the Lakers build a 15-point lead against San Antonio before he had to sit out the rest of the second quarter with his head injury. The Spurs went on to score 15 of the next 17 points on the way to victory. Henry did return, but he ended up 0 for 6 from the field.

"When X got hurt," D'Antoni said, "for whatever reason the air kind of went out of us."

The player the Lakers suddenly can't win without was largely a fringe contributor with his first two NBA teams.

Knee soreness derailed his rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies, who selected the former Kansas star 12th overall in the 2010 draft. Two subsequent seasons with the New Orleans Hornets produced modest results, along with a stint in the NBA Development League.

Henry always believed he could produce, provided someone would give him the opportunity.

"It's not just, oh, you had a bad shooting night, you're terrible and you're about to get cut," Henry said of his mind-set. "There's always a next step. Just work harder, work harder and eventually your time will come."

Since joining the Lakers he has spent hours with assistant coach Kurt Rambis tinkering with a shot that was perhaps the biggest knock on his game. He has also grown into his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, something that took a while considering he would still be a rookie had he spent four years at Kansas.

There's nothing he can do about the pronunciation of his name.

It's ZAH-vee-ay, and it recently sent Kobe Bryant in search of an alternative when discussing his mentorship of younger teammates.

"The wing guys I really speak to quite a bit," Bryant said, "from Nick [Young] to Wes and, uh, the young fella, um …"

Xavier?

"Yeah," Bryant said. "I was going to call him 'The German,' but that name's already taken" by Chris Kaman.

Henry was actually born in Ghent, Belgium, deriving his name from the trainer on his father's pro basketball team. The different pronunciation comes from the Flemish language spoken there.

"We thought it was unique," Barbara Henry said. "When he was younger, he would correct people as far as how to pronounce his name. But as he got older, he just lets it go because so many people get it wrong."

Said Xavier: "There's been like Javian, Javier, like all kinds of things. They used to get real bad when people just had no clue what it was, but they knew it wasn't Xavier."

Henry's athletic heritage is also one of a kind. Both of his parents played basketball at Kansas, and his father, Carl, appeared in 28 games with the Sacramento Kings during the 1985-86 season before continuing his career overseas. His older brother, C.J., played at Kansas and was a first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees who is now rehabilitating a shoulder injury as an outfielder with the independent Evansville Otters.

There are no assurances Henry will be a Laker for the rest of the season. His contract becomes guaranteed if he's still on the roster Jan. 10.

"I could get hurt tomorrow and be back home," Henry said, "so I have that mentality of just, hey, every day I have to be a dog, I have to be the most competitive one in here and make sure I make a roster spot for myself."

He's off to a good start, his play-through-it moment Friday evoking comparisons to Bryant's hobbling to the free-throw line last spring with a torn Achilles' tendon.

"If I was going to be bloody out there," Henry said, that smile forming again, "I might as well shoot my free throws."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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