With every playoff round, Lamar Odom hears he will be the key to the series. That as he goes, so go the Lakers.
"I take that as a compliment," said Odom before last night's Game 1 of the Finals. "I'm just going to go out here and play my game. I'm trying to make plays. There's no pressure. It's just basketball. I've been doing this since I was 6, 7 years old. Of course, you're on the biggest stage. I look forward to going out here and performing."
With Odom expected to spend considerable time guarding Kevin Garnett, his X-factor status is more obvious. Odom knows consistency at both ends of the floor is important, guarding Garnett without needless fouls and making the Defensive Player of the Year work hard on defense.
During the regular season, Odom averaged 14.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He performed well as the Lakers' No. 3 scoring option after the team acquired Pau Gasol Feb. 1. Odom recorded his 12th career triple-double (10 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists) Feb. 13 at Minnesota and grabbed a career-high 22 rebounds against Golden State March 23.
"They always say Kobe [ Bryant] is going to do what he's going to do," said Odom. "We've got Gasol now and great players on our bench. It's important for me to come out here and put my stamp on the game."
Words of wisdomIn his pregame speech, coach Phil Jackson talked about getting off to a strong start.
"We talked a little bit about being prepared, the preparedness of a ballplayer, that you can't be prepared for exactly how a team is going to play until you're actually on the court against them," he said. "So, you may be behind, but that doesn't limit our energy and effectiveness as a reacting team."
Jackson also made sure his players knew what to expect in the Finals. After all, only Bryant, Derek Fisher, and Luke Walton had played in the Finals before. Jackson made sure his players knew about the lengthy, All-Star-style introductions that also include reserves.
"They're going to be out there [for the introductions] and then going to have to reset themselves for that and have a kind of warm-up period," said Jackson. "Those things can't delay their focus at all. They still have to be really focused on what they have to do. We tried to talk about that. But I've always been underplaying, perhaps is the best word, their ability. They've always surprised me with their ability to get ready."
Conspiracy theoryThe Lakers reported no problems with the visiting locker room. No excessive heat. No dangerously low ceiling. No plumbing difficulties. No "shenanigans," as Jackson might say. But that didn't stop the players from joking about the legendary tricks and mind games played when Red Auerbach ran the show at the old Boston Garden.
"Knock on wood, we haven't had any curveballs thrown at us so far," said reserve center Chris Mihm, a former Celtic. "We had a warm welcome at the hotel. We haven't been out and about too much. We'll see."
And which hotel would that be? The Lakers actually switched Wednesday, moving closer to the Garden. Because of a lack of available hotel rooms, the Lakers worried at one point that they would have to spend a night in Rhode Island. An earlier than usual arrival created a reservation mixup. But guard Jordan Farmar saw a conspiracy theory behind the paucity of rooms.
"We had to go to another hotel two days ago, then move to another one closer to the arena," said Farmer. "That's just how it is. That's the NBA Finals. That's what home-court advantage is all about. I don't know who's responsible for this, but it's something they're trying. It's how it should be, though. The whole city should be in on it. There was definitely a conspiracy. But that's what we want. That's what separates this rivalry."
Choosing sidesWith Rick Fox spending parts of his career with the Celtics and Lakers, it was easy to wonder which side he was rooting for in the Finals. The question was easily answered when Fox was seen in the Lakers' locker room, wishing them luck. "This is the only locker room I've been in," said Fox. "My loyalties lie with my rings. That's where I've had a lot of success and a lot of great relationships." Then, half-jokingly, Fox added, "Can you write that after I leave so I don't get harassed?" . . . Underneath his warm-up jersey, Odom wore a T-shirt that featured a large picture of his son Jayden, who died in 2006 when he was 6 1/2 months old after suffocating in his crib. Odom said it was the first time he had worn the shirt in about a year. "I hope it will give me a little extra energy," said Odom. "It's my lucky charm." . . . Odom and the rest of the Lakers expected a tough crowd at the Garden. Not the same one that chanted "MVP" in Bryant's honor a couple of years back. "It was a different year, different season," said Odom. "I'm pretty sure you won't hear that. They love their teams, whether it's the Red Sox, the Patriots, or the Celtics."
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.