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Slumps don’t happen to forwards with Stretch Armstrong reach, a point guard’s court vision and the ability to finish with both hands around the rim like Lamar Odom.
But a glance at the steadily declining numbers that the multi-talented Odom has been producing in the first three games of The Finals tells a different story.
After averaging an ultra-balanced 14.2 points on .525 shooting along with 10.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists during the regular season, then scoring 14.7 points on .481 shooting with 9.7 boards and 2.9 dimes in the first three rounds of the playoffs, Lamar’s line has dipped to 9.3 points on .419 shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in Games 1-3 of The Finals.
Even worse, he is in the midst of a precipitous slide, going from 14 points in Game 1, to 10 points in Game 2 (after which Phil Jackson said, "Lamar got confused out there") to just four in Game 3.
Yet with all the mounting evidence, Odom won’t classify his play of late as a slump.
After a reporter asked him point blank Wednesday, “Are you in a slump?”, Odom responded in disagreement.
“I know I can play better,” Odom said. “I’m not having an opportunity to stay on the court, I’m probably fouling too much, which you can attribute to the scoring slump, I guess. If you can call it that.”
Here are four adjustments that Odom can make to get his game back on track, so we don’t have to use the “s” word around him anymore.
1. STOP FOULING SO MUCH
Odom said that it’s every player’s “worst enemy” to come out of the game early on in the first half because of being saddled with a couple quick fouls. The nine-year NBA vet thinks he know how he can beat that enemy.
Odom said that he has been getting whistled when he tries to plug the lane to prevent penetration, what he describes as “wall[ing] up.”
To remedy this, the lefty says he’ll have to play more aggressively and make a play on the ball, rather than just take up space by using his 6-10, 230-pound body.
Odom has racked up 15 fouls in the three Finals games thus far, cutting his minutes per game average from 37.0 overall in the playoffs to 33.0 in The Finals.
2. CONCENTRATE ON THE BOARDS
L.O. averaged a remarkable 11.7 rebounds per game during the Lakers’ arduous six-game series against the Jazz, a team that features a frontline of former All-Stars Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, so you know he can 'bound.
He had 14 games during the regular season in which he amassed 15 or more rebounds and shortly after Pau Gasol arrived had a stretch of 12 straight games with double-digit boards as Pau was drawing box-out attention.
Even if Odom’s shots aren’t falling, he can still be a game changer on the glass.
3. CUT DOWN ON DRIBBLING, OUTSIDE SHOTS
It took until 4:22 remaining in the third quarter on Tuesday before Odom got a shot to go down, a mini jump hook in the lane. This was partially because of time spent on the bench, but it also came down to overall sloppy play by Lamar and questionable shot selection.
Odom is most effective catching the ball near the foul line extended, lowering his shoulder and sliding to the hoop or just camping out on the weak side, waiting for his defender to help on Kobe Bryant or Gasol and then becoming the recipient of a dump-off pass for a layup.
When he’s catching the ball out on the perimeter and having to start his offense that far away from the hoop, it’s bad news as several of his turnovers in Game 2 were caused after he dribbled himself into a bad situation outside of the paint. And when he doesn’t dribble outside, he’s launching 3-pointers where he’s made just 2-of-8 trifectas in the playoffs.
Odom said that when he attacked the goal from inside at the end of the game, good things happened for L.A.
On Odom’s second (and last) field goal of Game 3, he set it up by moving without the ball. Kobe had possession out on the right wing and Odom cut from the left side of the lane to the right side, pinning Kevin Garnett on his back in the process. Bryant fed him the ball in stride and all Odom had to do was extend his lengthy arm and he had two points.
It was a beautiful play for several reasons because it played to Odom’s physical gifts (quickness and length), while neutralizing the physical advantage KG has over him because Odom didn’t hesitate with the ball once he caught it on the post and give Garnett an opportunity to bang on him down low.
4. JUST PLAY
Bryant says that he tells his teammates to, “focus on the things that [they’ve] been taught.”
“You just go out there and you play,” Kobe said. “You do the things you’ve been taught to do and trained to do and control the things that you can control. Outside of that, don’t worry about it.”
Odom doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel (or the triangle) in order to get off the schneid.
Bryant was confident that Odom and Gasol (who’s had his struggles as well), will put their past transgressions behind them.
“They’ll be fine. They’ll be fine,” Bryant reiterated.
Odom laid out his own plan.
“I have to stay aggressive offensively, but I guess defensively I have to play with a high I.Q.
“You have to persevere. Right now it’s about the L.A. Lakers, not about Lamar Odom. If I can just stay on the court to help the team and do whatever it is like rebounding or making plays, that’s where I want to be.”