Lamar Odom earned his high five from Shannon Brown.
The Lakers entered Tuesday's game with Houston storylines seemingly established: Pau Gasol out with a hamstring injury. Ron Artest back in the starting lineup after missing five games with a concussion. Trevor Ariza back to battle his old squad for a third time (and perhaps, finally, play well against them). The Lakers looking to make hay inside against Houston's undersized-but-tough bigs, or simply to succeed against a team that's given them fits despite being out-talented on paper (and, for that matter, reality). One plot managed to surprise: Andrew Bynum notched 24 points on 10-16 shooting, his second half paint diet described by Phil Jackson as "the best thing that we did in the course of the night." Many others played to form. It was a muddy, low-scoring affair in which Artest was energetic but understandably rusty while Ariza, who finished 5-14 from the floor, still couldn't put together an effective game against the purple and gold.
Meanwhile, another story was on the radar but treated with less importance than the other metaphorical bogeys at 12 o'clock. Lamar Odom missed Monday's practice with a gastro-intestinal issue so wicked a trip to the doctor was needed, but whether because his availability come tip off was never seriously questioned or we're understandably accustomed to reserving talk of heroics-while-ill for Kobe Bryant, that particular wrinkle seemed to fall into the background.
It shouldn't have, because Odom was still feeling terrible before the game.
Still, it didn't take long for LO to announce his presence, scoring the Lakers' opening four points and wrapping up the first frame with a sixes in the box score's points and rebounding columns. Before everyone knew it, the guy least inclined to hog the spotlight ended up stealing the whole show, easily the best player on the court. Simply put, it was a sick night for Lamar (pun intended, since everyone was thinking it, anyway). One assist shy of a triple-double (17/19/9), it felt like LO was all over the court, in the mix during nearly every pivotal turn of events in what would become an 11-point Lakers win.
Defensively, he was credited with just one block and nary a swipe, but don't treat those modest figures as a sign of impact lacking. Odom helped force turnovers through challenges to ball-handlers and would-be shooters or by standing his ground on drives. And when it came to manufacturing points, dude was a beast, directly adding 17 and contributing to another 20 through nine assists (all coming after the first quarter). Whether dumping the ball inside in the perfect spot for Bynum to rise casually for a hook shot or tossing a left-handed, over-the-shoulder feed to Kobe for a layup on the break, Odom often directed traffic brilliantly while turning the ball over just once.
His best moment however, one defining the intensity of his effort, came on the glass during the first half after Kobe missed from 16 feet out. Balancing along the baseline with Houston's Luis Scola glued to him, Odom stretched out, tapped the ball to himself twice before finally securing it, granting the Lakers a new possession eventually converted into a short jumper from Kobe. That rebound was the crop's cream, but considering Odom grabbed eighteen others, it feels kinda mean ranking them as they were all clearly a labor of love. Bynum actually thought LO snatched 20 on the night, and when ESPN Los Angeles' John Ireland suggested Drew donate one to LO's total, the kid (under fire these days for his rebounding numbers) didn't hesitate to volunteer.
"I would, too," laughed Bynum. "That was a monster game by him. It was unbelievable."
The Lakers center was hardly the only teammate offering praise. Kobe is dealing with his own injury, a right index finger whacked late in the game leaving the superstar in obvious discomfort, but just because he has a pain threshold that would make Jack Bauer throw up his hands and quit during an interrogation doesn't mean Kobe didn't appreciate what Odom brought with the team in need. "He had an impressive performance," gushed the Mamba. "Very impressive. He is really locked in." When I asked Phil how LO stepping up while illin' made him feel as a coach, a smirk crossed The Zen Master's face:
"It makes me very proud of my son, Lamar."
Once the laughter died down, I noted Odom's reputation for disappearing (fair or not) and how a performance like tonight's flies in the face of that rep. From there, Jackson offered unmistakably sincere props: "He knew we were at a deficit tonight without Pau and DJ (Mbenga) was sick (with a cold). We were short big guys and he stayed in there and fought."
Lamar being Lamar, someone described as the ultimate "team guy" (and not always as a compliment), he did a lot of what's created his persona while speaking to the media after the game, deferring the limelight, deflecting the attention elsewhere. Happiness expressed over close buddy Artest being able to play. Being "upset" Gasol is back on the shelf. But very little about his own achievement. I wondered if there was any additional sense of pride knowing he came through while feeling horrible.
If so, not for the record.
"It's just a game and we have one tomorrow," shrugged Lamar. "And the focus is a team."
Not that Odom was playing the "aw shucks" role to a hilt. He copped to feeling miserable yesterday ("Why me?" he wondered) and experiencing "crazy" body aches. A nap following the afternoon shoot-around helped a bit. "I took my time getting to the arena so I could sleep," admitted the lefty. But bottom line, feeling less bad shouldn't be confused with feeling good, which may delight Laker fans heading into tomorrow's back-to-back against the Clippers. I told Lamar how the evening's Daily Dime chat was filled with people hoping he remains under the weather, if near trip-doubs are what can be expected while he's sick. Odom laughed, but shook his head, saying in so many words that it ain't happening.
Guess we'll just have to hope for the best when the guy often labeled the X-Factor is once again in the pink.
Lamar Odom, on his performance
Phil Jackson, on Lamar Odom and the win
Andrew Bynum on his game and Lamar Odom's
Pau Gasol, on his hamstring