- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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They made the trade hoping that at some point this season they might get some semblance of the Odom who won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011 and helped the Los Angeles Lakers win back-to-back championships.
They knew, however, in the interim they were getting an Odom who was 30 pounds overweight and was so ineffective during his forgettable 50-game stint with the Dallas Mavericks last season that the two cut ties in the midst of the season.
There have been glimpses recently that the old Odom might be back, and Saturday night might have served as his welcome-back party.
Odom had 18 points, six rebounds and two assists in the Clippers’ 107-94 win against the Utah Jazz. Odom scored 16 of his points in the second half as the Clippers took a two-point halftime lead and turned it into a 21-point lead in the second half. It was Odom’s highest point total since scoring 19 on Jan. 19, 2012, and was arguably his most complete game since he was a member of the Lakers.
“Matt Barnes said he went to the hot tub time machine tonight,” Chris Paul said. “He came out, and there was that Lamar Odom that everybody around here has grown to know and love. With the spirit that he has, you have no choice but to be happy for him. That’s my guy. I’ve been waiting for him to do this because we know he’s capable of it, and we hope there’s more to come.”
There were times earlier this season where Odom wouldn’t even look at the basket when the ball found his hands. It didn’t matter if he was wide open; he would look to swing the ball and get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible. He made his presence felt on the defensive end and was a facilitator but was nonexistent on offense, and defenses knew it. That has slowly changed, and on Saturday, Odom made the Jazz pay for leaving him open.
“All season long we’ve been yelling at him to shoot it,” Paul said. “Now he’s starting to shoot it. At the end of the day, you have the confidence in yourself and we all have the utmost confidence in him. Out of a timeout, we drew up a play for him, and I’m one of the guys who is always telling him to shoot it. You’re always open, shoot it. If he gets it going like this for us now, it just makes us that much more dangerous.”
Paul credited the win to Odom after the game and said his performance didn’t come as a surprise given the way Odom has looked in practice recently.
“I told him after the game that it stems from practice,” Paul said. “Yesterday and the day before in practice, he was aggressive, and when he’s aggressive, it changes the dynamics of our [team] and what we’re capable of. ... Without that game he has tonight, we don’t win.”
It’s no coincidence Odom’s resurgence on the court has paralleled his getting back into shape. Odom is close to the 230 pounds he was when he was on the Lakers and often can be found on the elliptical after practice or eating a salad before the game.
“I’m starting to get my legs underneath me,” Odom said. “I’m just trying to stay at it, just work hard. I’m trying to fit in and do whatever I can do to help the team win. Tonight, the shots fell. It was a good night offensively, but the main thing is to keep at it and keep working hard and just keep trying to get better.”
Blake Griffin, who had 18 points and seven rebounds, has seen glimpses of the player Odom can be during practice and has been waiting to finally see the player who gave him fits on the Lakers actually show up for the Clippers.
“He was unbelievable,” Griffin said after the game. “That’s the kind of scoring I remember from Lamar back when he was with the Lakers when he was on championship teams and won the Sixth Man of the Year. He’s so tough to stop because he’s so versatile. There’s flashes of him scoring like that, and the thing about him is he handles the ball so well and he really wants to pass first, so a lot of times in games, we’ll be on the bench or in the game, and I’ll tell him to shoot it and look at the rim, and tonight he was and it was a good thing.”
The Clippers don’t expect to see Odom scoring 18 points every game, but all they want from him is to stay aggressive and take open shots when they’re available to him. They might not always fall, but if he doesn’t take them or doesn’t even look at the rim, the Clippers are at disadvantage offensively when he’s on the floor. If he starts making those shots, well, the Clippers might have finally found the old Odom just in time for the stretch run of the season.
“I think he gives us a whole other dimension out there when he starts making those shots,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It spaces the floor for us. Everyone knows Lamar knows how to play, but we needed his production tonight. It was good he got into a little bit of a flow. He had good shots and he shot them with the confidence, and hopefully we can build on that.”