Ever since he’s actually played meaningful minutes this week because of a depleted lineup, Lakers forward Earl Clark says his “phone has been ringing more than usual.”
It’s understandable. Before he was just a throw-in this offseason when the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. When the Lakers (15-20) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (27-8) tonight at Staples Center, Clark will become the team’s starting small forward with the initial task of guarding Kevin Durant.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni clearly wasn’t kidding that Clark would get in the rotation after posting a career-high 22 points and 13 rebounds in the Lakers’ 108-105 loss Wednesday to the San Antonio Spurs. Clark sounded eager in wanting to it wasn’t a fluke as he makes his second start in his four-year NBA career.
“You always have to go out and prove yourself,” Clark said. “Anybody can have one good game in this league. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself. I just try to go out there and help my team win as far as defending, rebounding and getting Steve Nash the ball.”
It’s a sign of the team’s ongoing struggles that D’Antoni has made a lineup switch in hopes to end the team’s five-game losing streak and better absorb the absences to Howard (shoulder injury), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill.
“Earl Sanity,” D’Antoni said, a not so subtle comparison to the “Linsanity” he experienced as the former Knicks coach when point guard Jeremy Lin surprisingly lifted the Knicks last season during long-term injuries to starts Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
But D’Antoni said he’s made the switch for practical reasons too.
He wants second-round draft pick Robert Sacre and Metta World Peace sharing duties in defending physical players, such as Thunder center Kendrick Perkins and forward Serge Ibaka. World Peace has an unspecified groin injury and wants to delay using him on Durant at the beginning of the game to save some energy. D’Antoni also likes the length and speed the 6-10 Clark showed against the likes of Spurs forward Tim Duncan. Clark impressed with similar qualities when he posted five points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ loss Tuesday to Houston.
“His ability to be able to guard and his ability to make shots, I didn’t know,” D’Antoni said. “He played as well as a guy could play. It’s two games so you never know. He has to do it every night. He has to be consistent. We haev to find him minutes. But he definitely deserves to play a lot today.”
Clark said he’s routinely told Kobe Bryant that he’s always ready for an opportunity. Lakers guard Steve Nash praised Clark for routinely arriving early and leaving late at practice.
“You just have to do that,” Clark said. “If you’re not playing and not in the rotation, you can’t be down on yourself when your names not being called. You have to be ready. I have high confidence. If not you’ll end up right back on the bench.”
He vows that won’t happen again.
“I prepared for this. I never hung my head,” Clark said. “I’m just trying to continue to stay in the best shape I can. I didn’t want to miss out on my opportunity. Unfortunately, our bigs got hurt and I got a chance to play. It was great for me.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org