Thursday, March 20, 2014
Xavier Henry has plenty to play for
By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- The drum kept beating along with the Los Angeles Lakers' march toward a merciful release from this nightmare of a regular season.
Wednesday's 125-109 defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs marked L.A.'s 32nd loss in its last 41 games, but more importantly turned the calendar another page. In less than a month, the Lakers will have played the final 15 games on their schedule and be sent out into an early summer with no postseason to speak of.
Xavier Henry has missed plenty of time this season because of injuries, but he's trying to finish strong to earn his next contract.
If it all seems like a bit of a worthless exercise in the grand scheme for a franchise that has been a perennial playoff team with 16 championships and 31 finals appearances, you're right.
However, sometimes when the macro goal has eluded a team, it's time to at least save some face with a micro accomplishment.
And while the Lakers look like a sinking ship to many fans of the purple of gold spoiled by success, there are still players on the roster looking to use the rest of this season as a vehicle to steer their wayward careers back in the right direction.
A lottery pick in 2010, the 23-year-old swingman is hoping to turn the final four weeks of the season into a platform to prove how much he belongs in the league.
Henry scored 24 points and hauled in four rebounds against the Spurs in his eighth game back after missing more than two months because of a bone bruise and an abnormality of the lateral meniscus in his right knee.
"Xavier is battling through a lot of stuff," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after the game. "He could call it quits. He has a little bit of a problem here and there [with his knee], but he's playing with some pain and he wants to play and it's up to him. You got to [respect him]. It's good for him. He's trying to do it and he looked good tonight. Hopefully he can manage his pain and play the rest of the season and keep getting better."
Henry is one of the 11 players on the Lakers' 15-man roster set to become a free agent this summer (12 if Nick Young opts out). After bouncing around from Memphis to New Orleans in his first three seasons, Henry wants to solidify a home in the NBA.
"There's a lot of things I do [on the court] that cause the pain, but I got 15 games left," Henry said. "I'm not going to sulk about it. I'm going to battle through it and finish the season."
Sure, there is some selfishness on Henry's part to play through the pain. He is not out there to contribute to the Lakers' fight for a playoff position -- as Kobe Bryant suggested he himself would be able to do during an interview on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Wednesday. Henry is out there to audition for that next contract. Then again, Bryant has $48.5 million in guaranteed money coming to him in the next two seasons, so it's easy for him to pick and choose when he would want to play injured.
Even though Henry might be looking out for himself and took a team-high 22 shots against San Antonio, his aggressiveness helped L.A. cut an 11-point first-quarter deficit down to one by halftime. When he went just 1-for-8 in the second half, his attempts were still coming in the context of the offense.
"I don't want to quit," Henry said. "I don't want to quit on my guys. If I know that I can go out there and help the team, I know I can still make a difference in this game no matter what it is. I'm still quick enough. I can still explode enough to get to the basket, get fouled, help people out on defense. Everything.
"As long as I feel like I can still make that difference if it's not too bad of hurting or slowing me down that much, then I'm going to play."
The 24 points Henry scored ended up being just shy of his career high of 27 set on Dec. 1 before he hurt his knee Dec. 29.
If Henry looked at the rest of the season as a waste, he wouldn't be going to such lengths simply to suit up.
"I got to get a lot of treatment before, get my legs loose, get all this stuff [in my thighs] stretched out that connects to the knee and all this other kind of stuff just to make it feel better for me to really move around," Henry said. "I'm still trying to build all those [muscles] back up. I'm not back to where I was by any means, but I'm fighting for it. I want to get it."
It's not all zombies in this Lakers march to season's end. There's still some signs of life.