TORONTO — As Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni continues looking for a lineup combination that consistently produces wins, Jodie Meeks has become the latest victim to lose out on the game of musical chairs.
Once prized in D’Antoni’s system for his outside shooting and energy, Meeks has sat out two consecutive games and played garbage minutes in three of the previous four games.
“Obviously it’s frustrating because you want to play,” said Meeks, who’s averaged 7.9 points on 36.2 percent shooting this season. “But at the same time, I force myself not to get too high or too low during the course of a season. It’s a long season and we still have a lot of games to play. I know that eventually I’ll be needed again so I’m not really concerned.”
For now, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has played more minutes to second-year guard Darius Morris because of his 6’7″ frame and stronger ability to defend. D’Antoni has also increased minutes for Earl Clark at power forward, in hopes his 6-foot-10 frame and versatility will help the Lakers’ struggling defense.
“It doesn’t mean it’s written in stone,” D’Antoni said. “But he’ll keep working and we’ll keep looking. When we have an opportunity to give him some minutes, we will.”
Meeks knows all too well what that process is like.
Hr fluctuated between a starting and reserve role the past two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. Meeks also only played in 7.8 minutes per game off the bench in the playoffs last season. Meeks appeared in single digits in two of the first three games under former coach Mike Brown and missed two others entirely before Brown’s firing. Meeks then scored in double digits in 10 of the first 20 games under D’Antoni.
Meeks hasn’t played much since logging 32 minutes against Houston on Jan. 8. But that’s when D’Antoni began featuring Clark more partly because of Pau Gasol’s continual absence from a concussion.
“I think it’s more mental than physical,” Meeks said. “I always work hard physically. But mentally, it’s probably the hardest part. You can get in at any time. You just have to be ready.”
Meeks’ reaction toward his reduced role contrasts how 15-year veteran Antawn Jamison reacted after sitting on the bench for seven consecutive games. Jamison openly lamented how D’Antoni never explained the thought process to him directly. Meeks suggested D’Antoni sounded more open to him about his demotion.
“I had a talk with him. He said it wasn’t anything I did wrong,” Meeks said. “I have to stay positive. He’s going with the guys he has right now. But I have to stay ready.
“It’s frustrating, but there’s really nothing I can do about it. My role is just to come in and make shots and play hard. Even if I’m not making shots, I still play hard every game. I feel that I bring a lot of energy to the team.”
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