EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott faced a difficult decision down the stretch of Thursday’s 123-118 double-overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls: Stick with the veteran point guard Jeremy Lin, or insert guard Jordan Clarkson and test the rookie’s mettle against an Eastern Conference juggernaut.
Scott chose the latter option, and his gamble paid off. Upon re-entering the game with 4:03 remaining in the fourth quarter, Clarkson reasserted himself after some shaky early play, scoring 9 points (2-of-5 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs) and withstanding the immense ball pressure and trapping the Bulls’ defense applied on him over the final 14 minutes.
“You gotta learn,” Scott said. “Sometimes you have to throw a guy in the fire and see what he’s made of. I thought Jordan kind of fell on his face for a few minutes, but obviously kept his composure, gathered himself and played really well in the second overtime.”
Clarkson finished with 18 points (6-of-15 FGs), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 3 turnovers against the Bulls. The explosive, athletic second-round pick has been inconsistent -- but solid overall -- in his brief time as a starter, averaging 13.8 points on 40.4 percent shooting, 2.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steal, 0.5 blocks and 2.5 turnovers through four games.
As his teammates are quick to point out, it takes time for a rookie point guard to learn new plays and reads, figure out teammate tendencies, and serve as an extension of the coach on the floor. But stretches like Thursday’s crunch-time performance show how Clarkson is rapidly improving at a rate even Scott couldn’t predict.
“I think we have a pretty good basketball player in this young kid,” Scott said. “When he falls on his face, he gets right back up. He wants to get better; he works his butt off every single day. If you look at his first game [starting] against San Antonio, and his last game last night, he’s shown improvement.
“That’s all you want from a young point guard. He’s developing nicely, and I think he’ll continue to do that.”
Perhaps the secret to Clarkson’s success has been a recent meeting with teammate and former MVP point guard Steve Nash, who is back around the team, according to general manager Mitch Kupchak. Nash is taking on a mentorship role with Clarkson, and the two met and spoke in-depth for the first time on Wednesday.
So, what did they work on?
“Just a little bit of everything,” Clarkson said. “We did a lot of film work; just reading plays, just slowing down and reads and stuff to look at. That’s really it right now. We’ll see. I’m going to meet with him again soon.”
Did Nash’s insight help Clarkson against the fierce Bulls defense?
“Yeah,” Clarkson said. “I tried to implement some of that stuff. It’s hard to do it off one day of work, but it’s just going to continue to grow. It’s just putting one brick down at a time.”
Clarkson says the biggest thing he’s tried to take away from Nash’s game is his “pace.” Nash was the ultimate floor general in his heyday, and the stubborn, competitive Clarkson is trying to learn that finding his teammates can be just as effective as attacking himself.
“I’m just playing at different speeds,” Clarkson. “At the same time, trying to get two defenders to commit so I can get somebody else a shot. … I don’t have to beat the trap with the ball. I can just pass it and get it out of my hands and let my teammates make a play.
“Just learning that. Just being thrown into it -- it’s a good learning experience for me.”
As the Lakers (13-34) embark on their nine-day, four-game Grammy trip, what do they need to pack with them to maintain the competitiveness they had against the Bulls and Washington Wizards? “Everything that we just had last game,” Scott said. “We have to pack that energy, that aggressiveness, that patience that we had at certain times, that ball movement, that player movement. The one thing we really have to pack is our hard-hat. We have to come with a lunch-pail mentality.”
The first game of the trip is Sunday against the struggling New York Knicks (9-38), which is what concerns Scott the most: “I think the thing that concerns me the most is the fact that they’ve been losing just like us,” Scott said. “It’s like having a wild animal backed in the corner -- they’re going to come out fighting. So we just have to be ready for it.”
Scott on meeting with Kobe Bryant before Thursday’s game: “He was a real upbeat,” Scott said. “We talked for about three or four minutes, then we both went in and he said, ‘I love all my teammates.’ He sat down and watched us go through the meeting and our points of emphasis. Then we gathered again for a second, I gave him a hug and told him I’d talk to him later.”
It’s unclear whether Nick Young will be available for Sunday’s game, as he has yet to return to full-contact practice since spraining his ankle Monday. “He did some shooting today,” Scott said. “He was real light on it. I don’t know if he can run or cut on it. So we’ll have to wait and see.”
Center Robert Sacre had an interesting analogy for the upcoming road trip. “It’s a bombing mission,” Sacre said. “Like coach said, ‘It’s a bombing mission.' We just have to kick butt and take names.”