(Photo courtesy of ESPNLA.com)
Following a breakout performance against the San Antonio Spurs in which he went for 22 points and 13 rebounds, Louisville product Earl Clark was inserted into the starting lineup against the Oklahoma City Thunder as he was given the unenviable task of guarding Thunder superstar forward Kevin Durant. While he did not match his previous game totals, he had a solid showing, going for 10 points and 10 rebounds and drew plenty of praise from ESPN and analyst (and former Knicks coach) Jeff Van Gundy.
This was the first time I have seen Earl play major minutes since Louisville and was honestly the first regular season NBA game I have watched in years. The soft-spoken forward from New Jersey looked like one of the best players on the court in the first half as he scored 8 of his 10 points. His defense was fantastic, his passing was superb, and he showed off a pretty mid-range jumper and impressive fadeaway. His first basket of the game (which was THE first basket of the game) was an impressive follow up slam off of a missed shot. He cooled off offensively the rest of the game, but was one of the most selfless players on the court. Van Gundy made the observation that he was playing the way the game should be played. He was not worried about how many shots he was getting or worried about his personal stats, but rather he was doing the small things it took to help out his team. With the unfortunate news broken last night that frontcourt player Jordan Hill will miss the season for the Lakers, Earl should continue to see big minutes on the court. Last night was not as impressive statistic-wise as his previous game, but he did lead his team in rebounds and looked comfortable in his role. He is clearly one of the best defensive players on the team (his offense was a little slow after the first quarter), and on the last possession of the first half, he was visibly frustrated at one of his teammates (I think Antawn Jamison) when he switched on D and Jamison stayed pat. Durant was left open and drilled a buzzer beating three. I could be wrong, but Clark did the right thing (definitely in his own eyes), and the Lakers need someone who is savvy on D like that. Earl is in a contract year, so the rest of this season will be big for him.
For him to reach his full potential, though, he will have to first understand there are FOUR quarters in NBA ball rather than TWO halves. There was a funny moment after the first quarter ended when Earl went to the locker room thinking it was halftime. He quickly turned around and went to the sideline as all of his teammates were laughing at him. It was classic Earl and I wish I had it on video. It has to be his NBA equivalent of the “Arizona…man I don’t think I’ve ever been there…” moment. Seriously, though, this is going to be the best opportunity he will every have to earn his place in the NBA as a major-minute player. He will do so playing for one of the most marketable teams in the league, despite their record (15-21) and he cannot afford to squander it. If last night was any indication, though, where he was working his tail off despite not having as good of a game as the previous one, he is ready to prove he belongs.
Additionally, I am not a fan of NBA-style basketball, especially in the regular season, so this was all a little foreign to me. Here is what I gathered from this level of basketball.
- Kevin Durant is really, REALLY good. Like, AMAZING. He put up 42 points and could not miss. He is just so good, that you cannot blame Earl for any of it. It was all Durant.
- Kobe Bryant is one of the most dynamic scorers of this generation. Having said that, he hates to pass the ball. I mean HATES. This is why I love college basketball so much. Great teams like Louisville distribute the ball freely looking for the best shot. As soon as Kobe touches the ball, you know what is going to happen. No matter who else is open, where he is on the court, he is taking the shot.
- Bill Simmons is a witty writer, but seems very annoying on TV.
- Any time someone calls Ron Artest “Metta World Peace,” it makes me sick. The dude is still dirty, still selfish, and impossible to cheer for.
- Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant do not like each other. I can understand why Lakers’ fans are so frustrated.