Lamar Odom's leadership was most valuable to the Clippers on Wednesday in Orlando as the veteran stepped up with four key players sidelined.
Odom, however, had something else in mind. He wanted every active Clipper to join him at center court instead and act as the collective captains. For some players, such as Ryan Hollins, it was their first time to be a part of the pregame ritual.
"We needed collective energy tonight," Odom said. "In order to win this game, we needed to focus on our unity. That's what families do during times of adversity."
The Clippers certainly played like a unit and with more energy than they have at any other point during their current eight-games-in-14-days trip. Without three-fifths of their starting lineup and their sixth man, the Clippers beat the Orlando Magic, 86-76, Wednesday and snapped a three-game losing streak.
Odom has becomes somewhat of a sage in the Clippers' locker room this season. After being vilified during his short stint in Dallas last season, Odom has become someone that the younger players turn to for advice on what it takes to win, how to adapt to different roles on a team, dealing with fame off the court and just about anything else.
Normally, Odom takes on this leadership role in the background and in the locker room and during practices with little fanfare as he blends in with the second unit, but his impact was put more on display Wednesday as he had to put a bigger imprint on the game and on the team with so many players out.
"That was all Lamar tonight," said DeAndre Jordan, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds. "He kept everybody's head into it and he kept us focused and that really helped us. Lamar kept everybody tight tonight. Even when we were down he kept us right. He's an older guy and he gives me a lot of things to learn from. You have to listen to a guy like that who has won two rings. On the teams he was on they overcame a lot of things to win so he knows what he's talking about. We're lucky to have a guy like that to learn from on this team."
When Odom was on the Los Angeles Lakers, helping them go to three straight NBA Finals and winning back-to-back championships, he had a similar leadership role in the locker room. The entire team would always circle around him pregame as Odom would yell, "We're the best team in the NBA!" Odom occasionally does the same thing with the Clippers but usually allows Paul, Billups and Griffin to do the talking on the court as he does the talking behind the scenes.
Odom was all over the court Wednesday. He played more than 27 minutes and had 8 points, 6 steals, 4 assists and 5 rebounds. The six steals for Odom was a career high and shows how far he has come in his conditioning. He has lost more than 25 pounds since the start of training camp, is back to his usual playing weight and is beginning to play like his old self again.
"There's a time and place for everything," Odom said. "It's all about making the right basketball play, and sometimes the right basketball play is to move and get people involved, and with this team I have to find that happy medium. But, of course, when guys go out I have to do a little bit more. Whatever I need to do to win games, I'm going to do."
Odom wasn't the only player who stepped up to the challenge Wednesday night. Eric Bledsoe, starting his 12th game in place of Paul, scored a career-high 27 points and had six steals and six rebounds. Hollins also played a season-high 24 minutes and had 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
When Odom talks about the Clippers as a "family," Hollins is the perfect example of what he means. Hollins is the last man on the bench and before Wednesday had played more than eight minutes only once since November. Hollins, however, can usually be found with ice around his legs and hands after practice, the result of going up against Griffin, Jordan and Odom. In turn, his teammates can usually be found at his new jazz restaurant in Beverly Hills after games.
"They're everything," Hollins said. "All our guys are so encouraging and telling me to stay ready and you know the entire team the organization has your support. That support is huge. It's always in the back of your mind whether you're playing or not."
As Hollins spoke about his game, Griffin and Jordan were in the background imitating Harry Caray talking about the game Hollins had.
"That Ryan Hollins had a great game," Jordan said in his best Caray voice.
"Clips win! Clips win!" Griffin chimed in with his Caray impersonation.
Odom simply smiled as he watched from a distance, putting on his black shirt and jeans ready to leave the locker room. He's not sure if the Clippers have weathered their current storm, but he knows times likes this and games like Wednesday's are what championship teams have to go through.
"If it's easy, something's wrong. That's fool's gold," Odom said. "You have to go through your ups and downs and it's all about how you respond to them as a unit. This is a tough time for us, but it's a good time. It's a measuring stick. This is an amazing test for us, but you have to embrace it and hopefully that makes you better."