Lamar Odom started off pretty rough. He was 2-for-7 in the first quarter and 0-of-2 in the second quarter as the Rockets hung around at halftime.
"I wasn't happy with Lamar's performance in the first half," said head coach Phil Jackson matter of factly after the game.
But the Lakers' MCP (most consistent player) wasn't about to bow out after a sub par effort in the most critical point of the Lakers season thus far.
"I just kind of kept going and going and going and going until I started to feel comfortable out there offensively," Odom said. "I always try to play a complete basketball game and I just took my time."
The Energizer Bunny-like statement from the team's emotional leader was only meant to apply to Tuesday, game No. 49 of 82 on the Lakers schedule. But there's a message in there every player wearing purple and gold can learn from. When things get hard this season, as they have already (see the three- and four-game losing streaks and the four losses out of seven games stretch they came into the Houston game with), just keep going at it. Sheer effort and determination go a long way.
For Odom, it was turning a bad personal start into a team win and the third 20-plus points, 20-plus rebounds game of his career (he finished with a precise, Barbara Walters-esque 20 and 20).
He started in place of the injured Andrew Bynum, playing as big as his 6-10, 230-pound frame would allow but he won the game in the fourth quarter and overtime playing out on the perimeter, picking up all four of his assists for the game in the final period plus the extra session.
"Having Lamar be the playmaker I think really is what threw them off because they’re used to seeing me being at the top of the floor and everybody can defend and then close out on shooters," said Kobe Bryant. "Once you put him at the top and move me off the ball, I don’t really think they knew what to do."
The All-Star reserves will be announced Thursday. Bryant continued to beat the drum for his talented left-handed teammate who has yet to wear "East" or "West" across his chest in the February classic in 12 years as a pro.
"You know he’s capable of doing that," Bryant said. "He’s so selfless because he’s accepted coming off the bench, when as a starter, we all know he’d be an All-Star hands down."
In a game where Bryant had 32 points and 11 assists and Pau Gasol chipped in 26 points and 16 rebounds, Odom stood out not because of his numbers, but because of his nerve to stick with it.
Seven of Bryant's 11 assists came in the first quarter. It seemed like he was trying to try to put the fourth quarter against Boston behind him. You know, the one where he took 10 straight shots as the Celtics stretched their lead. But Bryant maintained he was just taking what the defense was giving him.
"It’s all about what the defense does," Bryant said. "The first quarter, they doubled, they trapped, I hit guys, they made shots. Obviously if they’re making shots, they feel better about themselves, but the defense dictates that."
Said Jackson of Bryant's early approach: "I thought everybody got involved that way."
What was telling after the game was that even though it seemed that the Lakers balanced final effort was spurred by Bryant abandoning the ball hog act, the back-to-back Finals MVP has his team's trust to make the right play, even if it means being a volume shooter at times.
"It’s up to him to make the play. No matter what, I stick with him," Odom said. "The basketball play is there for him. We live with him reading the game. Sometimes he’s going to shoot seven times in a row, sometimes he’s going to draw the D and kick it."
Just like Odom has faith in Bryant, Bryant has faith in Gasol, so much so that he wants to get more out of him. Here's a separate story I wrote detailing a conversation Bryant and Gasol had sometime between the Boston game and the Houston game. Click on it to find out why Bryant wants Gasol to be more like Natalie Portman.
Gasol said the goal for the game was to shut people up.
Odom on the other hand, wanted to get people talking. At least talking on the court, that is.
"We're not playing basketball the way it should be played," Odom said. "We're not communicating with each other.
"If you pass a park in my neighborhood and you see guys playing 3-on-3, all you hear is chatter -- that's what they call it in baseball. We don't have any chatter right now and it's hurting us defensively. We found it at times during the game, but I know it's something we can do defensively. It's make it a much better team."
It was the Lakers' first overtime game of the season.
"We needed a game like this," said Bryant, who has seen his team involved in lopsided games, either win or loss, for most of the season.
Jackson joked that his team earned flex time.
"I gave them five minutes leeway for [Wednesday's practice]," he said.
Since Lakers trade scenarios are surely to be discussed ad nauseum in the next three weeks, can't hurt to get more player perspectives on Kupchak announcing his interest in making a trade.
Gasol: "It’s a red flag. You see something that’s not working and so it’s mentioned and it’s talked about that way and some decisions could be made that change things up. So, as a team, as a group, I think that kind of tells you we need to step it up and we need to get it together otherwise some people or some players could go."
Bryant: "I think I’ll let Mitch do his job. Mitch has been great at it, so I’ll just let him do his job."
Lakers rookies Devin Ebanks (four minutes) and Derrick Caracter (two minutes) both received some rare playing time in a game that wasn't a blowout. Where they being showcased in hopes of drumming up a deal? Was PJax proving to Jerry West the Lakers aren't actually that old if they have two rooks he can run out there? With Matt Barnes out and Ron Artest struggling, is Ebanks the new answer at small forward? No, no and no.
"It was about rest, getting [the starters] a couple minutes off the floor," Jackson explained.
While the Lakers won, the first-place Spurs lost, allowing L.A. to gain a full game on San Antonio in the standings. The Lakers are 6.5 games behind Tim Duncan & Co. now, with the chance to cut it to 5.5 when they host Gregg Popovich's group Thursday.
"It's just an important game," said Jackson. "They're in first and we're in second. So it's an important game for us."
Gasol said that the Lakers shouldn't waste their energy worrying about their 1-5 record against the elite teams and instead focus on their 0-1 record against the Spurs from their 15-point loss on Dec. 28 in order to prepare.
"We’ll be ready, for sure," said Bryant. "We just owe them a [butt] kicking. It’s as simple as that."
Jackson said he remembered having a team that started off 27-7 and finished the season with just 41 wins, perhaps to psyche himself up that history can repeat itself and the Lakers could catch the Spurs in the standings quite easily.
Quote of the night: "Obviously it's been a magnificent three years. My life changed radically from that moment on and I'm still very thankful to this day." -- Gasol on the three-year anniversary of his arrival in L.A. in a trade from Memphis. (Bonus: Gallery looking back at Gasol's two-year anniversary.)
Stats of the night: The Lakers had 10 more rebounds, 13 more fastbreak points, 13 more free throw attempts and 18 more points in the paint by still needed OT to win ... The Rockets shot a whopping 38 3-pointers and made just 10 ... After combining to go 1-of-16 against Boston, Derek Fisher (11 points) and Artest (nine points) combined to go 7-of-12 against Houston ... A game after becoming the youngest player ever to score 27,000 career points, Bryant eclipsed the 5,000 career assist mark ... Bryant was called for his eighth technical foul of the season in the third quarter.