This Lakers season has been filled by one letdown after another, but the story of Earl Clark's recent rise has been a pleasant surprise.
Here's a quick guide on Clark for Lakers fans so they'll know who they're cheering for:
1. Denver's George Karl helped set off "Earlsanity"
The game that gave Clark his opportunity to play was L.A.'s 112-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets, when three of the Lakers' big men -- Dwight Howard (shoulder), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip) -- went out. When Gasol was hit in the nose by Denver's JaVale McGee and awarded two free throws, Gasol was unable to shoot them because he had to check out of the game to stop his nose from bleeding. By NBA rule, the opposing coach is allowed to select anybody off the bench to shoot the replacement free throws, so Karl chose Clark to come in.
Clark hadn't played a minute yet that game and was only 1-for-2 from the free throw line on the season before then, but calmly checked in with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, stuck both the free throws, and checked back out.The clock was stopped the whole time so Clark's line in the box score that night looked pretty interesting: zero minutes, two points.
"I was like, 'Seriously? Did he do that?', Clark said of Karl singling him out. "I'm glad I was ready and knocked them down. It was like kicking it in his face."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said it only goes to show how much Clark has improved at shooting to the point where the scouting reports on him are wrong.
"I was kind of surprised he chose him because he’s one of our best shooters," D'Antoni said. "But, they didn’t know and we didn’t know. That’s why he sat at the end of the bench. Nobody kind of knew. His knock in Orlando was he couldn’t make shots, so that’s the scouting report and that’s why they did it and that’s kind of why he was the last guy to get a chance. He worked on it evidently all summer. Somewhere he got confidence in it and he’s knocking it down."
2. He has two double-doubles in the last three games after one double-double in his first 149 games
Before Clark's 22-point, 13-rebound breakout performance against the San Antonio Spurs, he had just 14 total points and 16 total rebounds on the season. In his last three games he's averaging 15.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 blocks. His career averages in four seasons in the league are 3.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists and 0.5 blocks per game.
3. His name is Earl, but call him "Eazy"
"They all just call me 'Eazy,' man, that's it," Clark said when asked if he's picked up any nicknames. "A few guys call me the 'sanity' thing which I don't really like."
Clark's old nickname was "E5" because he wore No. 5 in college and No. 55 as a rookie with the Phoenix Suns. He wears No. 6 for the Lakers.
4. He can guard all five positions on defense
"It also gives us a guy that’s extremely versatile," D'Antoni said of Clark's emergence. "He can guard all from 2s to 3s, actually 1s to 3s to 4s and can even switch to a 5. He’s been doing a terrific job and he’s got to keep it that way. I know it’s only four games, but that’s better than no games. We’re extremely happy with where he is right now and hopefully he will keep progressing. His energy and his length on defense, his body is just alive, and it’s given us a good jolt."
5. He almost played in China
As Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register pointed out, during the NBA lockout Clark was one of a couple dozen players to defect from the league and try to find work overseas. If he had stayed over there and caught on instead of returning from China to be with his pregnant wife, maybe this all never would have happened.
6. He's a sneakerhead
Clark has been wearing the new Kobe VIIIs recently, but before that you could see his feet adorned in a wide array of different sneakers -- some classic, some custom, some exclusive colorways -- because Clark doesn't have a shoe contract so he's allowed to wear whatever pair of sneakers fits his fancy that day.
7. He's a family man
"Off the court, I'm mostly with my kids and my wife," Clark said. "We're gone so much, I like to spend a lot of time with my daughter and son and catch up, see what they're learning in school and see what my son has picked up because once you go on the road for seven days, we come back and they do something new. So, you kind of miss out on a lot."
Clark's daughter, Ke'nya, is three and his son, Nasir, is one.
Clark's birthday is actually this week. He turns 25 on Thursday, the same day the Lakers play the Miami Heat.
"All I would like is a win and maybe some cake, man," Clark said.
8. He's made a couple comical mistakes
At the end of the first quarter when the Lakers played Oklahoma City, Clark ran off the court toward the locker room. D'Antoni said it was because Clark got confused and thought it was halftime. Clark claims it was just because nature was calling. Regardless, it gave the team a good laugh.
Then, after the Cleveland game, Clark committed the mortal sin of overlooking the Lakers' next opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks and talking about L.A.'s "next game" against the Miami Heat.
"Miami . . . Milwaukee . . . They both start with ‘M,’" D'Antoni said with a laugh. "They hadn’t seen the schedule yet."
9. Others are enjoying in his success
Former Laker backup Derrick Caracter, who played with Clark at Louisville, popped up on my Twitter timeline this week when he re-tweeted two of the positive notes I wrote about Clark's success.
Caracter is one of many former teammates of Clark to come out of the woodwork and cheer him on.
"A few of my teammates from former teams I've been telling me that they're glad to see me get an opportunity and to just keep going and make the best of it," Clark said.
10. He loves hearing Lakers P.A. announcer Lawrence Tanter say his name
Clark was asked what has been the most fun part of his run so far.
"I ain't going to lie, just getting my name called in the starting lineup at the Staples Center," Clark said. "That's a big accomplishment for me and my family. You know, sometimes at night it's what you dream about and it came true."
That dream has been realized in the last five games, but Clark played in just nine of the Lakers first 32 games this season.
"Some days are better than others," Clark said of being out of the rotation. "Some days you can be positive and feel good and upbeat and some days it's like, 'Man, am I ever going to get a shot?' But, like I said, I just tried to stay positive and continue to work and be prepared for when they did call my name."