The Los Angeles Lakers finally broke their Lonzo Ball curse, winning a game without the No. 2 pick after going 0-8 previously. It wasn’t a pretty game to watch with the injury-depleted roster, but a dominant night from Jordan Clarkson paved the way to a Lakers victory.
Friday night was a bit of a rookie season redux for Clarkson. The Lakers, shorthanded due to injuries, needed Clarkson to step up. Perhaps the Mar. 24 outing against the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2015, with JC dropping 30 points and seven assists out of nowhere, is the best comparison.
Only this time, the Lakers won because of his outstanding effort.
Clarkson is in an interesting place in his career. No longer is he the diamond-in-the-rough prospect, but a proven guard well-equipped to be a scoring punch off the bench. He’s also one of the players who’s already having his name thrown around in trade rumors with the deadline only a few weeks away. The trade and non-stop news cycle chatter, the banged-up roster, and the looming “haven’t won with Lonzo” gloom in the air make for plenty of noise.
None of that mattered to Clarkson Friday night. He found his zone, locked in, and poured 33 points with seven assists to go along with his scoring on the Indiana Pacers.
“I was just hooping today, just comfortable, not thinking too much, and that’s it,” Clarkson told media when asked what his focus was on knowing the Lakers needed a big night from him.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton was feeling the same vibe about Clarkson’s game, “guessing” that JC was focused on playing in the moment, as opposed to trying to impose himself as a scorer.
“To me, guys normally have nights like that when they stop thinking about offense. I think whatever reason, guys being down, him knowing what our messaging was all day and about the type of effort we were going to need — they got a lot of talented guards on that team.
“When you kinda get lost doing other things, and you’re as gifted as he is offensively, that’s when you have nights like that. That would be my guess behind it,” Walton said after the game.
Clarkson wasn’t worried about forcing the issue to get buckets, but did credit a playcall from Walton as the moment he felt like he stepped into his comfort zone early in the first quarter.
“When that m***** f***** was going in,” Clarkson said, unable to contain his excitement when asked when he knew it was his night.
The spirit of Kobe Bryant lives on in the locker room.
“I mean... when it was going in,” he quickly corrected himself. “My bad, when the shots were just falling. Luke got it going for me, cutting back door he got me going early with a layup.”
Indeed, a season-best game would proceed the nice finish from Clarkson on the aforementioned cutting layup call from Coach Luke:
It was a solid bounce-back effort from Clarkson, who had scored just 14 points combined in the Lakers’ previous two losses. He was averaging 10.4 points, 2.5 assists and 2.1 rebounds in the 10 games before his breakout performance, with shooting percentages of 37 percent overall and 25.6 percent from outside.
That’s something he hopes will start shifting after getting loose against Indiana.
“For me it was getting back to the basics, getting back in the gym. I had a little struggle month I feel like with my shooting and stuff, but hopefully this turns around for me this month,” Clarkson said.
As for the trade rumors, Clarkson is trying to keep his mind away from worrying about whether he’ll be playing in a purple and gold uniform come Feb. 8.
“If I’m here, I’m going to help them win games, impact how I can. If I’m not, it is what it is,” he said when asked
Walton, noting that Clarkson is close with assistant coach Jesse Mermuys, didn’t shy away from the fact that they’ve discussed the always-looming trade chatter directly. The message coming from the coaching staff seems to be a positive one, despite it being an awkward “basketball business” situation.
“The message is always the same. You can’t control it, if you get traded, you get traded. We don’t coach as if you’re not going to be here, this is our group, and this is who we try to coach.
“It’s not always easy, but he’s continued even with a little bit of a shooting slump that he’s been in. He keeps coming, keeps getting his shots up with Coach Mermuys,” Walton said.
The future for Clarkson may seem murky, but Friday night he showed that it doesn’t really matter on the court. He cleared his head, hooped out, and the results speak for themselves.
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com