- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

LOS ANGELES | Lamar Odom has always been a player praised for his athleticism and rare versatility. At 6-foot-10, he has the size of a power forward, but he also possesses the skills that allow him to handle the ball like a point guard and knock down shots on the perimeter as well as any shooting guard.

But a knock against him has always been a seemingly inconsistent internal drive. When he’s focused, he’s virtually unstoppable. When he’s not, he can drive a coach mad.

But no one can accuse Odom of a lack of effort this postseason.

After going from starting forward to sixth man this regular season, Odom averaged 11.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game. The playoffs arrived, and his 17.8 points and 11.0 rebounds helped the Lakers dispatch the Utah Jazz in five games. He was slowed by a bad back in the conference semifinals against Houston and saw his effectiveness diminish.

He gutted it out in the first four games of the Lakers’ conference finals series with Denver, them seemed to find new life. Odom recorded 20 points and eight rebounds in a 119-92 Game 5 victory, and then in the decisive Game 6 notched 19 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

“I just try to do a little bit of everything in whatever way I can help the team,” the 10th-year veteran said. “I try to do it with my passing ability, with my ballhandling ability, rebounding. Whatever it takes to help us win games and succeed at what we’re trying to do.”

That wide array of skills Odom offers caused many NBA analysts to label Odom as the X-factor in the NBA Finals. Sure, Kobe Bryant would do his thing, and fellow All-Star Pau Gasol would be counted on as a dangerous second fiddle.

But Odom, they believed, if he played at a high level, could make the Lakers unstoppable because he could give his Orlando counterparts Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu fits by using his length as a perimeter defender - and because the Magic lack a comparable offensive threat off the bench.

“You have of course, Kobe Bryant, and another All-Star in Pau Gasol, but Lamar Odom in a sense is the most important player in this series for the Lakers,” ESPN analyst and former NBA point guard Mark Jackson said. “One thing in talking to Phil Jackson, he said, ‘Lamar is our igniter’ - everybody on the team responds to Lamar. So that being said, I would point the finger. You know what you’re getting from Kobe, you know what you’re getting from Pau, so I would say he is very crucial to their success.”

Odom delivered in Game 1 of the Finals with 11 points and a team-high 14 rebounds. Gasol started the game on Lewis, Orlando’s power forward, but at times switched to guard Dwight Howard. Odom came off the bench and helped limit both Lewis and Turkoglu to a combined 21 points on 5-for-21 shooting.

Lewis conceded that after going through the entire Eastern Conference playoffs without having to face a defender on the ranks of Odom caused a problem and took him out of his game.

“I can’t really take him off the dribble, because he’s my size and just as quick and as athletic as me,” Lewis said. “And he’s so long, too. I have to find other ways to attack him.”

Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said size and athleticism are assets for Odom, but his basketball IQ and feel for the game are ultimately what makes him a tough matchup.

“They play against guys that are 6-10 with long arms and athleticism all the time,” Fisher said. “But Lamar’s ability and understanding of how to play the game for not being an overly powerful guy, and to still average 11, 12 rebounds in the most physical, highly contested games says a lot about his understanding of how to play. It’s his ability to read the floor. He sees the floor like a perimeter guy, not like a big guy, so that helps him with positioning as well.”

Odom said he’s expecting Lewis and Turkoglu to come at him with an improved effort in Sunday’s Game 2, but added that he’s up for the challenge.

“It’s a battle of wills, you will yourself to play harder and strive to be perfect, that’s one of my goals,” He said. “I expect them to come out and play much better. But we’re prepared for that.”

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