With trepidation, Lakers forward Earl Clark approached trainer Gary Vitti Tuesday with some news that he had kept secret for about 10 days.
Clark’s right foot had been bothering him ever since practicing a day before the Lakers’ win Feb. 3 over the Detroit Pistons. But he kept holding off, believing the endless energy and length he’s provided since earning a starting power forward spot a month ago could mask any limitations. Clark struggled Tuesday moving the foot during morning shootaround.
So he receive an MRI, a CT scan and X-rays in tests he called “precautionary.” They all came out negative and only revealed inflammation in his sore right foot, allowing Clark to suit up when the Lakers host the Phoenix Suns tonight at Staples Center without any limitations.
“If it was hurting, I would’ve told them earlier,” Clark said. “But nobody in the NBA is playing with a pain free body. It’s something we go through as athletes. We just play through it.”
That provides the Lakers a rare sense of relief. They’re already thin at the power forward spot. Pau Gasol’s torn plantar fascia on his right foot will keep him sidelined for at least an additional five to seven weeks. Jordan Hill had season-ending surgery on his left hip last month, which will keep him out for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, Clark has become what coach Mike D’Antoni described as “the brightest spot we’ve had this year” by posting double digit performances in 14 of the 19 games since appearing in the team’s regular rotation. As a starter at the power forward position, Clark has averaged 11.6 points and 8.8 rebounds in 33.7 minutes through 16 games.
“He’s a tough kid,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll play through it.”
Still, Clark said he will have to make some adjustments.
His pre-game treatment includes icing, taping and electronic stimulation. Clark plans to wear softer orthotics in his shoes to give his foot added comfort. During NBA All-Star weekend in Houston, Clark plans to simply rest and minimize movement on his foot. Clark also said he’ll become particularly aware to how the high arc on his foot applies pressure when he moves.
“I’m cool as long as I can jump off of it and play with a clear mind,” Clark said. “I’m not just going to go up.”
Still, that scenario sure beats the alternative Clark feared when he approached Vitti about his injury.
“I’m glad I cleared my mind,” Clark said, “and there’s noting wrong with me.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org