Amare Stoudemire's comments on Lamar Odom speaks to inconsistent reputation
In countless sequences, Lakers forward Lamar Odom drove to the lane, created his own shot and led a first-quarter charge both Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry believed served as the momentum boost in the Lakers' 128-107 Game 1 victory Monday over the Phoenix Suns.
While many of Odom's 19 points and playoff career-high 19 rebounds came against a defenseless Amare Stoudemire, it wasn't until Tuesday's practice when the Phoenix forward finally fought back.
"I'm not giving him no hype," Stoudemire testily told reporters before the Suns practiced on Tuesday. "He had a lucky game."
As far as Odom's response? He answered in the same nonchalant fashion that describes his laid-back demeanor. Said Odom: "Hopefully I can have another lucky one." Odom's teammates rang similar tunes. Lakers guard Derek Fisher mentioned Mick Jagger's recent comments to CNN's Larry King that part of the Rolling Stones' success pointed to luck. Jackson argued Odom created his own luck by playing aggressive. And Lakers forward Pau Gasol echoed similar sentiments, saying in both Spanish and English that, "you have to earn luck."
The Lakers effectively squashed down Stoudemire's comments about as quickly and efficiently as they shut down Phoenix in Game 1. Clearly, Stoudemire aimed to get inside Odom's head when he had no answer for him on the court. And the Lakers redefined luck by suggesting it's something that happened because Odom created it rather than the luck being some random event.
This philosophy universally applies to many walks of life, but clearly Stoudemire's comments referenced Odom's inconsistency and suggested you never know when Odom's going to put on a performance like he had in Game 1. That's going to be particularly important for Odom to replicate, however, considering the uncertainty surrounding the health of center Andrew Bynum, who had increased swelling in the torn cartilage in his right knee. Although Bynum reported less swelling after Tuesday's practice, he believes he'll miss most practices this series. And when Jackson was asked whether Bynum will improve from a four-point effort in 19 minutes in Game 1, Jackson admitted "I really have no idea. We hope we can get him going again."
At least in Game 1, the Lakers managed to absorb Bynum's limitations. Gasol scored an efficient 21 points on 10 of 13 shooting, marking the fifth time in seven games he scored at least 20 points. The Lakers scored 56 points in the paint. And of course, Odom's 19 points and 19 rebounds gave Gasol support inside. Though Gasol hopes Bynum's health improves, he remained confident the Lakers' inside presence would remain effective. (For those wanting to learn Spanish, forget using Rosetta Stone. Just watch the video below of Gasol, who switches between Spanish and English with reporters).
Of course, whether or not the inside presence remains effective depends on whether Odom can still maintain the dominance he had in Game 1. That is certainly possible. The week-long rest allowed him to heal from a sprained left shoulder. Odom has spent his first five postseasons averaging 16.8 points per game. And he's experienced plenty of success against Phoenix in the postseason, posting playoff career-highs in points (33 on May 2, 2007), field goals (13 on May 2, 2007), assists (nine on May 4, 2006), rebounds (19 in the Lakers' recent Game 1 victory) and offensive boards (seven in the same game).
But whether or not this happens consistently remains unpredictable. Odom entered Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals averaging 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds, which ranked below his regular-season average of 10.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, a clip that prompted former Laker James Worthy to publicly question his effort. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant found the criticism unwarranted, citing the 12.2 points Odom averaged as a starter. Fisher offered a similar assessment, arguing Odom's numbers mostly had to do with the fact that he's not always needed to be a dominant scorer.
"I don't think it's a question of effort," Fisher said. "I think it's just a game-to-game thing. There isn't really anybody on our team really with exception to Kobe that stastically every night, certain numbers need to look a certain way. Everybody else, you have to be willing to take what comes to you on the nights that it does."
I understand Fisher's contention. But my point isn't the difference in Odom's numbers. It's how he appeared more involved in the game itself. There's been plenty of times this postseason where the Lakers' supporting cast almost made Odom feel uninspired to find different ways to contribute, and it prompted Jackson several times to single out Odom. That's why I found it telling that a simple question to Bynum abou Odom's performance led to this response.
"As long as he's geeked up and excited about the games," Bynum said, "he's going to go out and do the same thing."
Odom offered a simpler take. "I just go out there and play whaever the matchup is," he said. "I just try to be as efficient as possible." And whether that's through increased aggressiveness, luck or both, two things at least remain clear. Odom doesn't care what Stoudemire said. And the success he experienced in Game 1 came directly from himself.
"That's a lot of times the way basketball is," Jackson said. "A guy starts playing well and things fall in his hands. He certainly did last night and we hope it continues for him."