It turns out Xavier Henry has leaped higher than immediately ascending from Lakers’ training camp invitee to the team’s shuffling rotation at small forward.
It came in the form of Henry posterizing New Orleans rookie Jeff Whitey with a left-handed dunk that epitomized the Lakers’ excitement level in their 116-95 victory Tuesday over the Pelicans at Staples Center.
“It’s not spur of the moment,” Henry said. “Once I get past who I need to get past, I can usually find the rim. Once I knew I faked them, I found the rim and I didn’t care who was in front of me. I was just going to jump. As soon as I jumped, he got his rookie moment. Welcome to the league.”
The sequence showed off all sorts of symbolism.
Henry and Withey were former teammates University of Kansas. Henry’s dunk that’s guaranteed to make the highlight shows could overshadow Andrew Wiggins’ debut Kansas’ win Tuesday over Duke. Henry’s dunk showed the growth in his driving skills against his former team where he had an indefinite role for the previous two seasons partly because of various injuries.
Henry’s dunk also coincided with a turn-around game. He posted 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting and 3 of 3 from three-point range in 22 minutes off the bench after shooting just 6 of 26 from the field in the previous four games.
“It was a heck of a dunk,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But he’s going to have to learn. He’s going to have to understand when he can go, when he can’t, what is a good shot and what isn’t. But he’s 22 years old. He’s doing pretty well.”
At least well enough for Henry to appear like a high-flying Blake Griffin. Moments after Henry’s dunk gave the Lakers a 84-60 lead with 1:45 remaining in the third quarter, the Staples Center scoreboard showed the replay in slow motion. That gave a detailed look on how Henry leaped just below the free throw line, pushed Withey away and threw the ball down with a one-handed slam.
“I smacked him in the head?” Henry said. “I didn’t mean to. That’s my guy. I like Jeff. He’s a good guy but he shouldn’t have been under there.”
Henry already has become a fan favorite after playing through a gash he suffered on his forehead two weeks ago against San Antonio after receiving nine stitches. Henry had those removed on Monday, and provided yet another clear example that nothing will get in his way from showcasing his energy.
“It is just one game, but it shows people that we can fight and we can compete. As long as we do our jobs or continue to do our jobs then you can make for it,” Henry said. “Will is a big part of this game. As long as people are committed to each other and as a team and to our only goal is winning the game, we can beat a lot of teams and turn a lot of heads.”
And in Henry’s case, a few highlight reels.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org