Odom plays role of perfect sixth man to lift Lakers

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Odom received the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award on Tuesday, just two days after the Lakers began their quest for a third straight title with a surprising loss to the seventh-seeded Hornets. On Wednesday, as L.A. was preparing for Game 2, Phil Jackson explained to his team what the timing of the award announcement was all about.

"I told the team today that the reason they made sure Lamar had this award was because this could be the last game he plays in front of his home crowd," Jackson said. "So they want to make sure that award gets to him at the right time. Now, go out and prove they're wrong."

Lamar Odom comes through for the Lakers with 16 points and seven rebounds. (US Presswire)  
Lamar Odom comes through for the Lakers with 16 points and seven rebounds. (US Presswire)  
Odom did exactly that. On a night when Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol couldn't get much of anything going offensively, he was the one who provided the much-needed spark, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds to help the Lakers even the series at a game apiece with an 87-78 victory.

After receiving the trophy again in front of the home fans prior to tip-off, Odom admitted that it might have given him a little extra motivation.

"Of course after you get an award like that, you get a little selfish, and you can't help but want to play well," Odom said. "But that's been my mentality, really, throughout this year, to always play on a certain level."

Odom played at a high level from the moment he checked in, and scored six of L.A.'s final seven points in the first period to help his team pull even with the Hornets despite trailing by as many as nine early on. He was consistent throughout the game, and was able to produce repeatedly while coming through with plays that quite simply changed the game's momentum.

In other words, Odom played the role of a perfect sixth man. And he said the key to doing so was finding a way to contribute so that you're in position to make that big play when the opportunity presents itself.

"I was able to do that after I missed the two free throws (in the third quarter)," Odom said, when asked about making those game-changing plays. "I got the ball back, hit the teardrop, then got that rebound and pushed it, went coast to coast, made the layup and got them to call the timeout.

"It's just plays like that throughout the game. If you can stay in there and contribute, who knows when your time is going to come to make that play?"

The Lakers played to their strengths, areas which have been obvious to seemingly everyone watching, except maybe themselves at times. Size and depth are where L.A. has almost no equal in this league, and the team seemed to finally realize it, at least on this night.

Bryant was in facilitator mode from the start, getting his bigs involved early and often in the offense. Even though Gasol struggled for the second straight game and finished just 2 of 10 from the field, he was active and aggressive.

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Andrew Bynum was the main beneficiary of the Lakers' sharing of the basketball, and his animated, dominant performance inside on both ends of the floor seemed to set the tone.

"Everybody's going to have their chance, and this is his time, as far as the arrival of Andrew Bynum," Odom said. "This is his time to show everyone what he can do, whether it's on the ball, off the ball, or just his disposition. The way he rebounds, the way he protects the basket, he's doing everything at a high level. He's doing it kind of with a ferocious style, you know what I mean?"

Bynum did appear more active, and he explained that having to watch multiple replays of his team's Game 1 loss might have had something to do with it.

"I think during the beginning of the game, when they were starting to get layups again, and Chris Paul was kind of breaking us down, it was just getting annoying," Bynum said. "We watched Game 1 four times, and it was painful every single time. And we played in it, so that's really five times looking at the tape and studying again, and it just got annoying. I wanted to go out there and see if I could change things up."

The reason the Lakers are favored to win it all again is because most believe that when they play intelligent and focused basketball, no one can stop them. The smart way that L.A. shared the ball offensively, and the way they adjusted defensively on Chris Paul -- by using Bryant on him for the majority of the game, with a little help from Ron Artest -- would lead you to believe that they have figured out this Hornets puzzle after just one failed attempt.

And of course, Odom and the rest of the bench will be as important as anything in getting the team to its ultimate goal, which was written on the whiteboard in the Lakers locker room afterward: "15 to go."

"That's one of our strengths is our depth," Bryant said. "No team can really match that."

Especially if the newly-crowned Sixth Man of the Year plays as he did in Game 2, which would mean many more home playoff games for the Lakers this postseason.

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