After center Andrew Bynum suffered a major knee injury in January, the Los Angeles Lakers made a blockbuster trade for Pau Gasol to help them stay competitive in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

When Gasol went down with an ankle injury, the team didn't have to look as far to find its newest replacement.

Lamar Odom looks to continue his strong play in the absence of Bynum and Gasol as the Lakers try to reclaim first place in the West on Wednesday when they host the Charlotte Bobcats.

Los Angeles beat Pacific Division rival Golden State 123-119 in overtime on Monday, bouncing back from a 115-111 loss to the Warriors the previous night. The victory put the Lakers (49-22) in first place in the West, although they're now trailing New Orleans by percentage points.

"It was a huge win, especially for us," said the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, who had 30 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. "You have to remember we are still not playing with two starters, who are two key members of our ball club. We are undermanned, but we are still playing very well."

Odom has been one of the biggest reasons the Lakers haven't faltered. He had 23 points, 21 rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots while playing all 53 minutes Monday, and made the go-ahead layup with 9.1 seconds left.

It was his seventh consecutive double-double - dating to the game in which Gasol was injured - and the 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 15.4 rebounds during that stretch.

"I just try to focus on rebounding because teams kill you when they control offensive rebounds," said Odom, who also had 19 points, a career-high 22 boards, four assists and four blocks in Sunday's loss. "If they are not hitting shots, it gets me involved in the game. That was really something I was trying to focus on to help us get the ball back."

Odom is averaging 17.9 points and shooting 52.7 percent from the field in the absence of Gasol, who's expected to miss at least one more game. Bynum, who hasn't played since dislocating his left kneecap on Jan. 13, isn't expected to return until the last week of the regular season at the earliest.

Odom's surge has been timely for the Lakers, who are involved in a tight playoff race. The top nine teams in the West are separated by only six games, but Los Angeles can claim sole possession of the top spot with a win Wednesday, coupled with a New Orleans loss at Cleveland.

"The losses are bigger than wins now," Odom said. "Every team in the west is hot. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. Winning is like using your jab in boxing right now, you just have to keep these teams off of you."

Los Angeles should welcome a meeting with Charlotte (25-45), which has lost six of seven after a franchise-record five-game win streak. The Bobcats shot 50.0 percent from the field but struggled defensively in their 128-106 loss at Utah on Tuesday.

The slump has dimmed the playoff hopes for Charlotte, which is five games behind eighth-place Atlanta in the East with 12 games left on the Bobcats' schedule.

Despite never having posted a winning record in their four seasons of existence, the Bobcats are a respectable 3-4 all-time against the Lakers. They had won three straight - the last two coming in overtime - in the series before their run was snapped with a 106-97 home loss on Feb. 11.

Odom was held to eight points, 10 rebounds and six assists in that game, but Bryant scored 31. He is averaging 36.2 points in six career games against Charlotte.


Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited