Lamar Odom picks up sluggish Mavs

DALLAS -- Believe in electric headbands? The one Lamar Odom first snapped around his head Tuesday night during pregame warmups and wore throughout the game seemed to send a surge through the struggling forward at a most opportune time.

Who knows if Odom's most energetic and productive performance of the past few weeks will last beyond this one game, but at least it gave his coaches and teammates and the fans who booed him just a little faith that there is a pulse. And where there's a pulse, there is hope.

Odom's assertive, nine-point, four-rebound, three-assist, one-block, one-steal night was pivotal in the Dallas Mavericks' 90-81 victory, their second over the backcourt-depleted Houston Rockets in four nights.

"He played his game. That's how he plays," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "It was big because we needed a lift and he was one of several guys that gave it to us. He was terrific all night long."

That was the good news, as Dallas got a must-have win with a back-to-back coming up starting Thursday with the first trip to Miami since the Mavs celebrated the title in South Beach on June 12, then it's on to Orlando and Dwight Howard on Friday night.

The bad news was the Mavs might not be competitive on the road if they come out as sluggishly as they did in both these Rockets games, which as Carlisle has said officially kicked off the playoffs because of the crowded standings and the desperate need for wins now with just 15 games remaining.

Carlisle said his club looked like a lottery team in the first half as it fell behind 26-10 to a Houston team playing without its starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin and having gone to overtime the night before in rallying to knock off the Kings.

Asked if his team, now 2-2 since the encouraging four-game win streak, is nearing any level of consistency, Carlisle said, "I don't know … so we've got work to do, and I don't mind that."

The same can be said for Odom in these final 15 games. In Tuesday's game, in which he made 3 of 4 baskets, Odom might have put on display a combination of his best burst and most determined effort. He aggressively attacked his man and got to the basket on two impressive drives and drained a jumper after a little shake 'n' bake to get his man off balance.

His best move came in the third quarter when he drove baseline, cradled the ball in the crook of his arm and finished with a finger roll that trickled over the rim and in to give Dallas a 64-55 lead about three minutes after he checked in with just a two-point margin over the Rockets.

"It was great to see him just being aggressive; I don't know about the headband, though," Nowitzki said. "But it was definitely fun to see him in attack mode. We all want to make this work. I think we all know, the fans know, we know if he's aggressive getting to the basket, playing with energy, getting rebounds, blocking shots, I think this team can go to another level. I think everybody sees it, and so we're behind him and hopefully there's going to be more of that."

Who can be sure?

This game came on the heels of an almost unfathomable week, if there can be such a thing in this ongoing drama. Odom flamed out against the Lakers last Wednesday and was lustily booed. Carlisle then handed Odom the first DNP-CD of his career Friday, which Odom followed with 13 scoreless minutes Saturday.

After Monday's practice, Odom felt compelled to address the boo birds, sparking a fresh round of sports talk radio debate wondering if he was simply done.

"Sometimes as a sportsman, sometimes you see things click, sometimes stuff clicks," Odom said. "I mean, I can still play now. It's just a matter of fact of finding it, finding how to assert yourself on a new team, a new system and so on and so on."

Odom has a golden opportunity ahead to keep things clicking at Miami and Orlando. But the Mavs have been here before. When Odom returned from his mostly unexplained leave of absence, his first game back on March 3 against Utah was highly encouraging with a near-identical stat line to Tuesday's game -- nine points, five rebounds and three assists.

Two nights later at Oklahoma City, he scored six points in his first three minutes. Then everything again started to slide, culminating with yet another strange week of events.

"Look, all things considered, his attitude has been terrific," Carlisle said. "And none of us will ever know a lot of the things that have happened to him in the last several months, but right now it's clear he's looking forward and he sees the opportunity to help this club, and I don't know if we would have won the game without him tonight."

Maybe it's the headband. Former Lakers teammate and friend Laron Profit sent Odom pictures of his rookie season with the Clippers when he used to don the headband, so Odom figured it couldn't hurt.

It was only one game, yet when Odom has one like this, even when he's the low-scorer and the low-minute man off the bench, it is worth taking note.

Will it continue? Not even Odom was willing to make a prediction.

"You can't read the future now, you know what I mean?" Odom said. "You're going to put the pressure on me not to have a bad game. You can't do that. You have to take it game by game. … I've always felt optimistic about the future. The future's good, bro, I'm here. It beats the alternative, bro."