PHILADELPHIA — The tension hung in the air in each moment.
The difference between a rare Lakers win and another forgettable loss partly hinged on what Jordan Clarkson would do next. But the Lakers’ 22-year-old rookie maintained a stoic expression as he went through those motions.
Clarkson swiftly cut backdoor to feed a nifty pass from Wayne Ellington for an open layup, a shot that secured the Lakers’ 113-111 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday at Wells Fargo Center. Only minutes earlier, Clarkson calmly sank two free throws that ultimately forced the game into extra regulation.
It marked yet another moment of growth for Clarkson, his 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and 11 assists in a career-high 43 minutes giving Lakers coach Byron Scott another reason why he believes the franchise has found a key player to accelerate its rebuilding.
“He’s not scared of the moment,” Scott said. “He’s not afraid to fail. He’s not afraid to be the goat or the hero. You have to like that.”
Incidentally, some Lakers fans might not like that.
The Lakers (20-53) won a game that could hurt their NBA lottery chances as they hold a three-game cushion over the Sixers (18-57) for the league’s third worst record. Consider the difference between what a third-worst and fourth-worst record does in the Lakers’ chances both to land a No. 1 pick (10.5 %, 15.6%) and stay in the top five (82.5%, 96%). Otherwise, the Lakers owe their pick to Philadelphia as part of the Steve Nash trade with Phoenix.
“I don’t pay attention to that,” Clarkson said. “We don’t come into the game and say, ‘We need to lose.’ We’re competing hard.”
Clarkson has shown that in a variety of ways. Scott likes Clarkson’s athleticism so much that he likens it to Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook. The Lakers rave about Clarkson’s work ethic that entails constant film study and pre-game warmups. And in the last two Lakers victories, he has shown that by making some key shots.
Against Philadelphia, Clarkson scored 10 of his 28 points in the final 2:35 of the game. In the Lakers’ win last Wednesday in Minnesota, Clarkson also sank two free throws that clinched the win. Clarkson did not experience such good fortune earlier this month. He missed two potential game-winning three-pointers in a loss to Charlotte. Clarkson also missed a potential game-winning three-pointer the following night in Miami. Clarkson also remained aware of the Lakers’ win last week against Philadelphia at Staples Center where he posted only eight points on 2-of-8 shooting, three assists and four turnovers
But Clarkson kept the same mentality through the good and the bad.
“I feel I like I’m going to come back the next day and try to get it again,” Clarkson said. “I’m going to get back up and play hard the next day.”