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T.J. SIMERS

Odom keeps his head and body in the game

May 22, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

A review of Lakers playoff game No. 11 -- 7 wins to go.

It's been an ongoing argument for years, one-sided mind you because Lamar Odom has no idea what he's talking about, but he likes to give his football opinions.

He thinks he knows the sport, his idea of what's going on in the game so crazy sometimes one wonders whether he is talking about the game of futbol as played on the pitch.

So imagine the shock -- the ball loose, the game on the line and the skinny wide receiver-like Odom making like Brian Urlacher and pretty much tackling Manu Ginobili to prevent him from recovering the ball and giving the Spurs a chance to tie the Lakers.

Ginobili goes down, an arm reaching for the ball, but too short to stop Sasha Vujacic from getting it and then putting the game away at the free throw line.

"Head up, chin out," Odom said, while describing the proper technique necessary to make a tackle. "My focus was on getting the ball, or making the tackle."

I know the guy, and so now is not the time to encourage him, because if he gets the chance, he'll be telling Pete Carroll what to do.

"Just doing what I can out there," Odom said with a smile. "Some nights it just doesn't go right for you, so you do what you can."

It could not have gone better for the Lakers, making chumps out of the champs, the Spurs with every chance to steal a win here only to gag when confronted by big-time pressure and noise.

What happened to all that experience and what it means down the stretch?

The Lakers did it without Kobe Bryant at his best in the first half, and without Odom, who has been one of the Lakers' most consistent performers the last two months, for much of the night.

Odom's scrappy fourth quarter, though, spoke to his growth as a performer, his finger-roll layup tying the game with a little more than three minutes to play.

In year's past, Odom might have taken himself out of this one, emotionally beaten by his belief that he was not getting his due from the officials most of the game.

"It's crazy," he said. "People say this game is 90% mental, and I believe that, because I think mentally I'm a tougher person now. Maybe it comes with growing up and getting older."

I have no idea why he was looking at me when he said that.

For years, I have maintained Odom has the potential to be one of the game's premier players. He displayed that last season in the playoffs, playing with one arm, his other shoulder needing surgery.

And he's done it down the stretch, the best thing to date, hanging tough against the Spurs when it was a lost night individually for the most part.

"I'm really focused right now," Odom said, "and to be a really good or a great player, you have to be consistent."

And when you're not consistent, Odom going three for 12 from the field and scoring only eight points, then what?

"We're a team," he said. "We had a lot of guys stepping up big time in this one. We remained poised; we take that from the coach sitting on the bench, and we just kept coming back."

And so the Lakers remain consistent, winning in these playoffs, "as unusual a game as it was," Odom said, "but all that matters is who wins the game."

Odom paused, and I thought for sure that he was going to make his Super Bowl pick, but instead, he said, "This is very satisfying. This team is winning like never before, and I think I'm a part of it."

HOW'S THIS for a big-time bonus?

Jerry West, an icon in his own right and offering to pitch in wherever needed when it comes to "Scully & Wooden for the Kids," has agreed to speak at an early-evening dinner before the Nokia Theatre event for sponsors such as the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Kings, Ticketmaster and special friends of Mattel's, who have donated $25,000 to the children's hospitals.

Food for thought. A few sponsorship spots remain, and if all goes well, the Lakers will be home between Games 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals, making the private audience with West that much more interesting.

JAMES WEBSTER HILL, known by some folks as just Jim Hill, bought 10 tickets for himself and friends at $200 a shot, and another 10 tickets to give them to kids at the First AME Church, so they might get the chance to attend "Scully & Wooden for the Kids."

The surprising thing, of course, is that Hill is media -- working for KCBS, and he could have joined the festivities for free, but instead elected to pull out his credit card.

That's one less Beverly Hills suit, maybe forcing him to wear the same suit twice in his life.

I DON'T know much about ultimate fighters, but at the very least I would have thought them to be tough.

But once the gloves come off, based on my experience with the one that I just met, he ran for cover.

The plan, agreed upon months ago, was to shadow Tito Ortiz in Las Vegas the next few days leading up to his fight Saturday, much as I had done with Oscar De La Hoya in the past.

But the big brute couldn't handle Page 2's sense of humor, and now isn't that a kick.

It wasn't the story that bothered Ortiz, but the interview for it and the reminder -- OK, so the constant reminder -- that Las Vegas oddsmakers have made him a big underdog in Saturday's fight.

Who knew that Andruw Jones would hold his ground, but Tito Ortiz would go belly up?

Ortiz went into hiding when a Times photographer showed up at the assigned time Tuesday to take his picture in Big Bear Lake, and now I understand why they lock these guys in cages to fight.

No telling if one of them might suddenly get cold bare feet.

Ortiz e-mailed Wednesday to officially pull out of the arrangement.

"I'm all about positive energy and positive stories about me," Ortiz wrote, and I thought I was pretty positive when I told him I thought he was going to get his butt kicked Saturday.

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother being positive.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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