Friday, January 27, 2012 Updated: January 28, 1:16 PM ET
Lamar Odom finally has reason to smile
By Tim MacMahon ESPNDallas.com
DALLAS -- Lo and behold, Lamar Odom can still play a little bit.
"Just a little bit," Odom said, cracking a smile after he scored a season-high 19 points in the Dallas Mavericks' 116-101 win Friday night over the Utah Jazz. "I've got a little left in the tank. I wasn't expecting to play bad 66 games in a row."
After talk of the Mavs possibly giving him a break, Lamar Odom responded with his best performance of the season against the Jazz.
Odom had by far his best game in a Mavericks uniform just a couple of nights after he seemed to hit rock bottom, getting benched midway through the third quarter after a 2-of-14 shooting performance in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. He referred to that as the "exclamation" of his struggles to make the transition following his trade from the Los Angeles Lakers in a salary-dump deal after the lockout was lifted and a trade that would have sent him to New Orleans as part of a package for Chris Paul was vetoed by the commissioner.
It got bad enough that Mavs owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle publicly admitted that the Dallas decision-makers had pondered a working layoff for Odom, much like the one superstar Dirk Nowitzki took this week to get his sore right knee and game right, although they opted not to go with that route with Odom at this point.
However, Carlisle and Cuban stressed that they continued to believe in Odom, that they expected him to make the kind of impact for the Mavs that he did while contributing to two titles in his seven seasons with the Lakers.
"This doesn't surprise me," Carlisle said after Odom's impressive performance against the Jazz. "This was coming."
Now it needs to keep coming.
Odom, whose professionalism has been praised by the Mavs even when his motivation was questioned by the media, knows that as well as anyone. After all, he's the guy who said after Wednesday night's miserable outing that he has higher expectations for himself than anybody else could possibly have for him.
"I've got to carry it over," Odom said when asked if he felt like a weight was lifted off of him. "I already know what I can do. I've got to keep it going, keep it going and make it consistent."
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Odom, who was shooting a career-low .329 from the floor entering the night, knocked down seven of 12 shots from the floor. That included 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range, highlighted by drilling a couple of long-distance shots on consecutive possessions to key the fourth-quarter run that put away the Jazz, bringing an American Airlines Center crowd that has been consistently behind him to its feet.
"It feels good," Odom said. "[There is] a lot of support since I've arrived on this team from all the players and everybody, the city of Dallas. They've made the transition comfortable. I'm proud to be a Maverick."
Odom understands that he still has a lot of work to get his game to the level that he's accustomed to performing.
While Carlisle praised Odom for playing an "all-around game [that] was tremendous," the 6-foot-10 forward grabbed only five rebounds in 32 minutes and struggled at times to defend star Jazz power forward Paul Millsap, who scored 13 of his 20 points during the third quarter.
Odom readily admits that he is still working his way into basketball shape, dealing with pain and swelling in his ankles during the process. The relative lack of conditioning is especially apparent with his lack of explosiveness. He still doesn't have a dunk this season, settling for a layup on a couple of occasions Friday night when he normally would have finished with authority.
"I'm used to being in exceptional shape. I'm not there," Odom said. "I'll keep tugging at it. Sometimes it's going to hurt. Sometimes when you get to the hole and you jump, it won't work. You know what I mean? I've just got to take my ups and downs and keep pushing through and get through that threshold."
His performance against the Jazz was at least a significant step in the right direction, a refreshing departure after struggling for most of his first month in Dallas.
"I had fun," Odom said. "Just played the game and had fun and made some open shots."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.