Blackhawks

Clark moves into starting lineup for Lakers

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Clark moves into starting lineup for Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike DAntoni decided to start power forward Earl Clark over All-Star Pau Gasol in Monday nights 95-83 loss to the Bulls.

Clark has become a breath of fresh air for this seemingly struggling group. Even in Sunday nights loss to the Raptors, Clark performed well, going 6-of-10 from the field and pulled down 14 rebounds, eight of which were offensive. His efforts have not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

Earl, who has played well, will play and it gives us a little bit more bounce to our step. We are a bit quicker team and hopefully that will help us, DAntoni said.

Looking back, Clark has come a long way from his playing days in Orlando, where he didnt see the court much, let alone start over one of the best players in the league.

Clark, who only started one game in two seasons with the Magic, has already exceeded that number by four in his first season with the Lakers.

Monday was a huge night for Clark, not primarily in statistics, but more on how hard work and effort goes a long way in the scheme of things. Clark has been working hard the past few weeks and feels honored to fill shoes as big as Gasol.

It was cool, you know. Coach gave me the position, Ive been working for it since Ive been in the NBA and Im just honored that he is putting trust in me to start because Pau is great player and a Hall of Famer and I feel honored, Clark said.

I think by the way Ive been playing these last couple of games and showing that I can spread the floor and help Dwight, clear up the middle. With Pau out there, it is difficult when they both want to post up and thats not how he wants to play, so I think that helped me out a lot."

Some may be puzzled by this switch in the lineup, putting Clark at the four and Howard at the five, but DAntoni believes this is the best move and will even provide a boost for Gasols game.

I mean, I think that helps, but I think it also put Pau in his natural position, DAntoni said. He is one of the best centers in the league and weve had him out of position and no matter how well we play together, it just wasnt producing. I mean, right now, were better when are small.

As the game progressed, Gasol returned to play normal minutes but was not sour about coming off the bench, according to DAntoni.

I talked to him about it and he understands where we have to go. Weve got to do it and hes going to come in off the bench at the five primarily and if we can sneak some minutes in with them both in, then good. If we cant, we cant but we just have to do that.

Gasol, who finished with a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, showed even coming off the bench wouldnt stop him from performing to his All-Star ability.

He has seemingly embraced this new role, though whether its temporary or permanent has yet to be decided.

I mean I cant see the future but we are ready to go forward like this, DAntoni stated.

Clark, who concluded the game with 12 points and eight rebounds, is hopeful about continuing as a starter. His plan to stay in the starting lineup is straight forward and takes full advantage of his ability to rebound and defend at all positions.

Continue to hit open shots and play my game and dont be timid out there, just be aggressive and defend and rebound," Clark said.

Knowing DAntonis style of play of fast-paced, up and down basketball, Clark feels strong about his skills fitting perfectly into the game plan.

Just because he likes to get out and run, spread the floor and just be versatile. You know he likes basketball players, he doesnt really like players with positions so you know get out pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop and put me at different positions like the three and four and also to guard different people.

It seems like Clark fits this description seamlessly.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.