How Antawn Jamison's Wrist Injury Impacts LA Lakers Down the Stretch

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How Antawn Jamison's Wrist Injury Impacts LA Lakers Down the Stretch
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Antawn Jamison isn't Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard, but he is important to the Los Angeles Lakers, rendering his wrist injury a major concern.

Los Angeles' stretch forward injured his right wrist in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' loss to the Washington Wizards. According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Jamison has a slight tear in the wrist but is expected to "gut it out."

Admirable though Jamison's attempt to play through the pain seems, any kind of tear in his wrist doesn't bode well for his shooting or Los Angeles' offense in general.

He's averaging 9.3 points per contest and shooting 47.3 percent from the floor on the season. Since the All-Star break, however, he's posting 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds on 50 percent shooting a night.

Jamison has also emerged as an integral component of Los Angeles' recent success.

Of all the Lakers' lineups that have played at least 90 minutes together, the one that has yielded the most impressive results consists of Jamison, Bryant, Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. They're currently outscoring opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions.

Even with Pau Gasol back in the rotation, that's a lineup you envision Mike D'Antoni finishing close games with. Howard surrounded by shooters—that's a D'Antoni special.

Jamison's injury, however, stands to change that. A lot.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
LA needs Jamison. A healthy Jamison.

With Gasol presumably starting from here on out, that leaves Jamison as the leading scorer of a second unit that is already barer than bones. Los Angeles' bench ranks 26th in points per game (27). Losing a scorer of Jamison's caliber isn't a casualty the Lakers can afford to withstand.

They're not losing him, though. He's going to try and play, right?

That he is, which means absolutely nothing.

Not only is Jamison now primed to incur a departure-forcing injury, but even if he manages to power through, it's unlikely he's able to log 20-plus minutes a night. It's even less unlikely the time he spends on the floor is as productive as usual.

To further complicate matters, Gasol is still a ways away from regaining his in-game legs. He grabbed eight rebounds in his return against the Washington Wizards, but he saw just 20 minutes of action and shot 2-of-10 from the floor. Increasing his workload or depending upon him in general isn't a sound route for the Lakers to travel.

Enter Earl Clark, the recent poster boy for inconsistency.

Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Clark's number will be called upon again.

Gasol's return saw D'Antoni send Clark back to the bench, where he'll likely stay. He received just over seven minutes against the Wizards, nearly falling out of Los Angeles' new rotation completely.

Jamison's injury will, if even eventually, open up minutes. Someone will have to pick up the slack of the Lakers' most dangerous scorer and rebounder off the pine.

The problem?

Clark is averaging just 7.6 points on 41.3 percent shooting since the break. He's visibly struggled with his defense off the ball, and Los Angeles' numbers with him on the court have been underwhelming, bordering on disastrous.

When Clark is on the floor, the Lakers are scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions. With him off, that number climbs to 110.5.

On defense, it's no different. Los Angeles is allowing 109.6 points per 100 possessions when he's in the game and just 105.7 when he's off.

By comparison, the Lakers score 109.9 points per 100 possessions with Jamison on the floor and allow just 105.6.

Via chartgo.com.

Clark has had his moments this season, and he is easily valuable as an on-ball defender off the bench. But as a premiere weapon? Not so much.

What we've also got to consider is Los Angeles' performance with Jamison overall. The Lakers are just 32-32 in games he's played, but when he scores 15 or more points, they're 12-4. And they're 18-10 when he tallies at least 10.

Clark can't provide that type of scoring punch. He's scored more than 15 points in just five games this season, and he's averaging more minutes (23.5) than Jamison (21.7).

Jodie Meeks' 19 minutes a night stand to be increased, but he hasn't proved to be as offensively explosive as Jamison either. He's posted 15 or more points nine times. He also can't play the 4 like Jamison can either. 

Adding further insult to injury is Los Angeles' dependency on Jamison's deep ball. He's shooting a 36.8 percent clip, which would give him the fourth-best rate amongst teammates who receive at least 15 minutes per game.

Clark is hitting on just 25 percent of his long balls since the break.

Yuck.

Via chartgo.com.

Still, look for the Lakers to lean on Meeks and Clark more if Jamison struggles (he will) or concludes that he's unable to play through his current injury.

Also expect them to rely heavily on their starters. 

Did I say "heavily"? Sorry, I meant "even more heavily."

Each of Los Angeles' current starting five (Bryant, Gasol, Howard, Nash and World Peace) are already averaging more than 33 minutes per game. With the exception of Gasol, everyone's minutes stand to increase down the stretch, even Kobe's.

Remember, the Lakers are only up by 1.5 games on the Utah Jazz and 2.5 on the Dallas Mavericks for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. They'll need all able hands on deck to finish out the year with a postseason berth.

Jamison's limited minutes and impact (or eventual absence) doesn't cripple the Los Angeles' current pursuit, but it does hinder it. The depth he provided was invaluable. On a team that stretches merely eight deep, how could it not be?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Can the Lakers effectively navigate life without a healthy Jamison?

Who will the Lakers rely on most to fill the offensive void left by Jamison?

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Playing or not, one of the last things the Lakers needed was a limited Jamison. Not with Clark struggling. Not with Gasol still gradually working his way back into action. Not with Jamison finally playing the role he was signed play.

And most certainly not with the fate of their season yet to be determined.

Now, clinging to their postseason hopes, the Lakers will be forced to voyage through the rest of the season with a physically-impaired Jamison. Or, worse, without him at all.

Suddenly, those postseason ambitions no longer seem like an inevitability. 

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

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