By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Feb 10 2009 3:35PM
The Los Angeles Lakers might have lost starting center Andrew Bynum for 8-12 weeks with another knee injury, but they've gained a confident power forward.
With 28 points and 17 rebounds -- both season highs -- in the Lakers' 101-91 win in Cleveland on Sunday, Lamar Odom not only capped a perfect 6-0 road trip for his team and ended the perfect 23-0 home record for the Cavs, he gave a glimpse of the player he can be when his head is in harmony with his ultra athletic 6-foot-10, 230-pound, left-handed frame.
It's been a tough season for the 10-year veteran, despite Los Angeles' stellar record. Odom is playing in the last year of his contract. In professional sports, dangling the carrot of a new deal in front of a player traditionally has guaranteed a spike in production. That hasn't been the case for Odom, who traded barbs with Phil Jackson during the preseason before settling into his bench role and the subsequent hit to his stats it created.
In the final 36 regular-season games that Odom played as the starting power forward after the Pau Gasol trade last season (while Bynum was out with an injury to his other knee), Odom averaged 15.3 points on 59.1 percent shooting to go with 12.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Through L.A.'s first 43 regular season games this season, with L.O. acting as the sixth man while Gasol and Bynum started at the four and the five, Odom's averages dipped to 9.4 points on 48.6 percent shooting to go with 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
"I was coming off the bench for the first time in my life. You know what I'm saying? So I didn't really expect my statistics to go up," Odom told NBA.com before the Lakers played Toronto on Wednesday. "Right now, where I'm at with this team, I don't play for statistics. I play to win the game."
That team-first mentality is paying dividends now that it's his turn to shoulder more of the load. In his four starts since Bynum went down, Odom is starting to recapture some of the old magic playing off of Gasol. Odom [shown above with Gasol] averaged 16.8 points on 53.1 percent shooting along with 10.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game in the Lakers' wins against New York, Toronto, Boston and Cleveland.
"We read each other well," Gasol said. "We're both very good passers. It's fun to play with Lamar."
What's more fun is beating the Celtics, the Lakers' bitter rival, which they did on Thursday thanks to Odom's first 20-point game of the season. For all of Odom's gifts on offense, though, his defense is something that Jackson recently called "spontaneous," meaning that Odom has the ability, he just sometimes doesn't use it well. Last week, he battled nobly with two All- Stars, holding Chris Bosh to 12 points on 3-for-7 shooting and keeping Boston's Kevin Garnett under his average, with 16 points.
Odom said it would be "selfish and childish" to focus on boosting his stats now that he's starting to remind free-agent suitors that he still has it. He is just another player doing his part on the team with the league's best record, at 41-9.
"Right now we're not at full strength, but yet, this so happens to be the team that got to the championship," Odom said. "We feel like we have enough personnel to keep it moving -- to keep moving forward, to keep getting better and kind of hold down the fort until [Bynum] gets here because this is a confident group."
The Timberwolves have been one of the league's bright spots since the New Year. This already young and talented group has a chance to get even younger and more talented with possibly four first-round picks in June's NBA Draft.
Through previous trades, Kevin McHale has stockpiled a bunch of conditional first-round selections. Minnesota has its own pick, which goes to the L.A. Clippers only if the Wolves do not finish with one of the 10 worst records in the league (their 17-33 mark is currently seventh worst). Minnesota has Miami's pick, which Miami keeps only if the Heat finish with one of the 10 worst records in the league (their 27-23 record is currently 15th worst). Minnesota also has Boston's pick, which is protected only if the Celtics finish as one of the league's bottom three teams, which isn't happening. Finally, Minnesota has Utah's pick, which Utah keeps only if the Jazz finish with one of the 22 worst records in the league, which is probable, so the Utah pick will remain conditional for 2010.
A two-game winning streak could be called a fluke just as easily as it could be considered a trend, but the Clippers' 121-97 drubbing of the Hawks in Atlanta on Saturday suggests happier times ahead in Clipperland.
Playing with stars Baron Davis, Marcus Camby and Zach Randolph together in the starting lineup for the second straight game, Los Angeles (12-39) picked apart the Hawks, (29-21) who were missing Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson. L.A. shot 49-for-86 from the field (57 percent) and 11-for-22 from three (50 percent).
What's even more impressive is that the Clippers had an assist on 38 of those 49 baskets (77.6 percent) as four players registered six or more. "Tonight was as close as we've been to our normal rotation,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told reporters. "We were moving the ball, getting clean looks and getting good shots."
According to Jackson, the Lakers expect Bynum's rehabilitation to involve a week of icing and a week of movement and flexibility followed by two weeks of simple bicycle exercising for conditioning before the 21-year-old tries on-the-floor activity ... Sacramento retired Chris Webber's No. 4 jersey on Saturday. Former Kings Mateen Cleaves, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie and Scot Pollard were in attendance ... Seattle native Spencer Hawes showed his support for the Sonics by wearing a green shirt, gold suit and gold tie with a picture of the Space Needle on it when the Kings played in Oklahoma City on Sunday, telling reporters, "I could have been home right now."
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