Behind the endless drives to the basket and the freakish bursts of speed, Xavier Henry has continuously nursed something perhaps more painful than watching yet another Lakers’ loss, the latest a 125-109 defeat Wednesday to the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center.
This pain involves Henry’s right knee, a lateral meniscus tear that once sidelined him for 29 games this season. Even if Henry’s team-high 24 points on 9-of-22 shooting against the Spurs marked significant progress since appearing in the past eight contests, his right knee still ails him enough that he feels uncertain when it will ever heal.
“Some days my knee feels great,” Henry said. “Some days my knee feels bad. I’m like ‘Man, I have to make it through the day.’ I’m trying my best to stay positive and help my team as much as I can.”
Henry has fulfilled that job description with mixed results.
Four double performances coincided with five games where he shot below 50 percent. Henry sometimes showcases his explosiveness. He sometimes forces the issue. Henry played as if he never had an injury in the first half against San Antonio, posting 19 points on a 8-of-14 clip. Henry played as if he lost his rhythm in the second half, scoring only five points on a 1-of-8 clip.
“Xavier is battling through a lot of stuff,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He could call it quits. He has a little bit of a problem here and there. But he’s playing with pain and wants to play.”
Henry refused to assess the level of pain level. But he acknowledged “it’s obviously not 100 percent.” Henry declined to detail his injury. But he conceded it has negatively affected his cutting, running and timing. Henry insisted the injury will not worsen by playing through it and does not plan to drain his knee or receive another cortisone shot. But he shared his daily routine involves plenty of treatment and stretching.
“I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to quit on my guys,” Henry said. “If I know I can go out there and help the team, I know I can get out there and make a difference in this game. I’m quick enough and can still explode enough to get to the basket and get fouled. Help people out on defense and everything. I know that people can make a difference in a game. As long as I know I can still make a difference and it’s not too bad or hurting and slowing me down much, I’m going to play.”
Henry represents 12 of the Lakers’ 15 players on their roster who could become free agents this season. He morphed this season from a training camp invitee to a dependable wing player that boasts bursts of athleticism, a decent jump shot and defensive hustle.
How much does his uncertain future push him to labor through the final 15 games with considerable pain?
“I don’t really think it’s my free agency pushing me at all,” said Henry, who’s earned just below $1 million this season. “It’s just wanting to be here for my guys. They fight hard. I fight hard.”
It hasn’t been easy.
“I try to block it out. If I can’t block it out, I compensate it with my other leg,” Henry said. “I try to use my other leg more. That’s the only thing I can do. I’m not going to be the guy that says, ‘It hurts a little bit so hey I can’t do it.’ I have to fight through it. It’s going to make me better at the end. I’ll keep pushing it.”
But Henry’s struggles go beyond handling his knee.
He has also assumed some point guard duties for the first time since his AAU days. The Lakers have relied on Henry and Jodie Meeks because of Steve Nash’s indefinite absence from nerve irritation in his back and Jordan Farmar staying sidelined for at least two weeks because of a strained right groin. Henry also assumed that spot earlier this season before the Lakers acquired Kendall Marshall from the Development League amid ongoing injuries to Nash (back), Farmar (left hamstring) and Steve Blake (hyperextended right elbow), who was traded last month to Golden State.
“He’s getting a little bit better and it helps his game. He has to understand they have to do it by committee,” D’Antoni said. “They need to pick their spots and not just go one-on-one all the time. They have to move the ball and go through Pau [Gasol] and make sure everybody shares the ball and attack when they can. Every now and then, they get off track and try to do too much.”
Amid this process, however, Henry maintains he isn’t trying to do too much by playing through his injury.
“I don’t feel like I felt before my knee, but I’m good enough where I know I can make a difference in the game,” Henry said. “I don’t think I’ll be 100 [percent] by the time we get done with this season. But as long as I push each and every day to make it feel better, I’ll be able to get as close as I can.”
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