Should Lamar Odom keep his starting spot in Game 4?
The idea of featuring Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the floor at the same time conjured up images of a triple-tower lineup powering over opponents, proving impossible to stop and providing an endless array of hook shots, slam dunks and post up moves. Fans e-mailed Lakers media members as soon as the Lakers acquired Gasol in Feb. 2008 and Odom even shared his wish to General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Phil Jackson during his exit interview following the 2010 NBA championship.
"Just our team and when I think about the triangle offense, I think about size and I think about ball-handling," Odom said at the time. "I think about us posting up and using the ability to post up to slow teams down. Our defense is predicated on our offense; I feel like we could help this team if we go toward a big lineup. It could be one of the lineups we go to to slow the game down and make the game more methodical."
The Lakers fielded that lineup in the Lakers' 98-92 Game 3 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the wake of Ron Artest's one-game suspension over clotheslining Mavericks guard J.J. Barea in the final seconds of Game 2. But with Artest back in the fold for what could be the Lakers' final game of the season, should they go back to normal or perhaps keep the same combination?
Below the jump, I'll size up each scenario and then give my take
Why Odom should start: The combination proved wonders offensively in Game 3, with the Lakers dominating the Mavericks, 56-20, points in the paint, Bynum finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds and Odom contributing with 18 points and six rebounds. It's really sad to think that it's unlikely Gasol will shake out of his lack of confidence and frustration, so having Odom on the floor at the same time at least makes it easier for the Lakers to play their frontline. The Lakers have never truly exhibited the size advantage they thought they had with Gasol's inconsistency and Dallas' improved physical play in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, so it at least nullifies it to some degree.
The lineup shift also allows Jackson to send a clear message that he's going to do whatever it takes to give the Lakers the best position to win the game. Forget bruised egos and contentiousness among teammates. The Lakers need to put that aside if they truly want to stave off elimination, or at least show some respectability in getting at least a win in the series. If that means forcing Artest to come off the bench because he let his team down with drawing a suspension and his poor 6.5 points per game average on 27.8% shooting, then so be it. If that even means having Gasol, a four-time All-Star, come off the bench because his continual inability to play aggressive and fight through his frustrations, then so be it.
As much as they might not handle the demotion well, neither of those two players have helped put the Lakers in a position to win during this series. Meanwhile, Odom has proved more than accommodating in accepting any role assigned to him. This would serve as a reward for a well-played season and would give the Lakers their biggest offensive threat.
Why Odom should come off the bench: The lasting image of the Lakers' Game 3 loss entails Jackson continually yelling at Gasol and Bynum during timeouts, expressing his displeasure on their defensive rotations. It was a vivid sight to see and it really showed the true passion that he has in coaching. As much as Jackson was justified in doing that, his tough love came at the wrong time and proved counter productive. This frankly should've happened a while ago, but leaning on Jackson's experience, he believed his players would frankly figure it out soon enough. That clearly didn't happen. But applying that concept now in an elimination game might backfire with Artest and/or Gasol playing even more disastrous off the bench, ranging from poor shot selection, decreased engagement and defensive lapses.
As much as Artest wasn't missed on the offensive end in Game 3, the Lakers lost the game late in the fourth quarter partly because of his absence. Highly regarded as the Lakers' best perimeter player, Artest wouldn't have allowed the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry to have wide-open three-pointers and his presence wouldn't have made the Lakers' large frontline to struggle so much in getting back in transition defense. His 31 minutes per game average would also help keep the starters fresh so that they're more equipped to close the game out and not fall to such mental fatigue. Regarding Gasol, as much as he shouldn't have to be coddled so much, the Lakers practically have no other choice but to provide positive reinforcement in hopes that he doesn't continue to struggle. Coming off the bench would prove a huge dent in his shattered pride, and he'd be even more tentative than he's shown already. It's better to just play it safe than just throw the kitchen sink for the sake of doing so.
Verdict: It's better to play Odom off the bench and return as normal simply because Gasol and Artest wouldn't react well emotionally to the demotion. That being said, the Lakers should try to use that Triple Tower lineup in setting a tone offensively. The Lakers aren't going to win Game 4 by shooting outside shots. Their 19.2% mark from three-point range isn't going to suddenly skyrocket. Having Odom, Bynum and Gasol on the floor at the same time will help offset that. When it's time for the Lakers to make defensive stops, they can lean more on Artest to help with their rotations. When the Lakers have opportunities to help boost Gasol's confidence, that might finally jumpstart him into providing some production.
The Lakers are going to have to be more flexible in relying on simply what works. That's going to require some sacrifice, possibly from Gasol, Artest and Odom, depending on the circumstances, but that doesn't make it necessary to shuffle starting lineups. Jackson can still get that message across without bruising egos and hurting other people's feelings.
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Photo: Lakers Lamar Odom is forced into a jump ball by Maveicks Jason Kidd in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semi-finals in Dallas Friday. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times