SALT LAKE CITY — Uncertainty lingers on whether Chris Kaman will suit up again, and the reasons go beyond falling low on Mike D’Antoni’s depth chart.
In what marked his second start of the past week because of Pau Gasol’s worsening upper respiratory infection, Kaman suffered what Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni called a “moderate” sprain in his left ankle that kept him out of the final minute of the Lakers’ 105-103 loss Friday to the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. That also put a damper on Kaman’s 19 point performance on 7-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds.
Kaman said his ankle “feels fine” as he kept it in a bucket of ice in the Lakers’ locker room. But he conceded he has “no idea” if he’ll be considered healthy enough to play when the Lakers host the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday at Staples Center. The Lakers plan to reevaluate Kaman on Saturday.
Kaman didn’t seem bothered by his ankle, but he still showed irritation with his diminished role that has entailed sitting on the bench for 13 of the Lakers’ 30 games this season.
“I have no approach. I get shuffled around so when it’s my turn, my turn,” Kaman said. “I try to take advantage of the opportunities I’m given and it’s not easy. But it’s part of the job. People are paying me to do a job so I have to do it the best I can and that’s what I do. It’s not easy. But I’m trying to be a pro here and do the right thing. We’ll see. Everything changes constantly.”
Things only changed for Kaman because of Gasol’s respiratory infection. Otherwise, D’Antoni has kept Kaman out of the lineup because of his preference for interior defenders (Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre) and floor spacing (Shawne Williams).
Still, Kaman provided everything the Lakers have wanted from Gasol all season. Kaman scored on a range of elbow jumpers, hook shots and putbacks. He dove to the basket off pick-and-rolls with Jordan Farmar, who also posted 16 points on a 6-of-13 clip and seven assists in his second game since a strained left hamstring injury kept him sidelined for the previous 10 games. Kaman’s statistical output also surpassed Gasol, whose health ailments and inconsistent aggressiveness has contributed toward averaging 14.7 points on a career-low 44.6 percent mark from the field.
Did Kaman show as if he was hungry for a bigger role?
“I don’t know about hungry,” D’Antoni said. “I think he played pretty well. That’s Chris. Once he has a big body of work like that, he plays well. Again, that wasn’t the reason why he wasn’t playing. It’s just a matter of numbers. I thought Robert played well when he came in. I thought Jordan played well when he came in. Obviously when Pau comes back, stuff has to give. It’s not a great situation for anybody, but I thought Chris played pretty well.”
That wasn’t the case in the previous two games Kaman played.
He started last week against Golden State because of Gasol’s respiratory issues, posting 10 points on only 5-of-17 shooting and 17 rebounds in 28 minutes. Kaman then only scored one point and missed two field goal attempts in 13 minutes Tuesday against Phoenix. Kaman then sat out of the Lakers’ Christmas Day loss to Miami completely before suddenly having a starting role.
“I thought I was overaggressive in the Golden State game because I hadn’t played in awhile. I should’ve been more patient. But then I was super patient in the Phoenix game,” Kaman said. “So I want to get a feel for the rhythm of the offense. Tonight I tried to be assertive. If I had a good shot, I took it.”
But instead of gushing about his play, Kaman remained critical both of his four turnovers and for both Sacre and Hill rotating to Gordan Hayward only to leave Derrick Favors open on a put-back that sealed the win.
“We turned the ball over too many times, myself included. Just dumb turnovers,” Kaman said. “Then at the end, unfortunately our bigs rotated to Hayward trying to stop the tap in, but no one boxed out Favors. It’s part of basketball. But being sharp and on cue is important. That’s where we fell down.”
And that’s why Kaman focused more on the Lakers’ (13-17) four-game losing streak than crediting the team for its never give-up attitude.
“We can take positives out of it,. But when you lose, at the end of the day that’s what’s most important,” Kaman said. “That didn’t help us to get a loss. We need a win. You want to take the positives out of it, but you can’t take too many positives out of it. You don’t want to be happy about losing. We have to continue to work and try to improve every day. When we lose, it’s a toll on us for some of the young guys. So it’s important for us to fight and clean up the mistakes that we made that hurt us.”
Whether Kaman actually helps in that cause remains to be seen.
Should Gasol’s health issues keep him out of the lineup, Kaman will likely start again. Should Gasol return, Kaman will likely sit on the bench. But in a season where the Lakers have fielded 15 different starting lineups, it’s really anyone’s guess.
“I’m frustrated a little bit. It’s hard to figure out when and what’s going to happen,” Kaman said. “I didn’t figure out Pau was not going to come until the day before practice that we were leaving. Then I figured I might play a little bit and then [D’Antoni] said I’m starting. That was new for me. I just didn’t anticipate it.”
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