1. Odom Comes Through For Lakers
LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Odom made things easier on the media than the Lakers have made things for themselves lately. You know, the old "Player receives award, then proves why he got it" angle.
The Sixth Man of the Year giving the Lakers the boost off the bench they needed was one of the only things that worked for them offensively Wednesday night. That and Andrew Bynum. They combined for 33 of the Lakers' points in their 87-78 Game 2 victory over the Hornets on a night Kobe Bryant scored 11 points and Pau Gasol once again couldn't establish himself inside.
So the Lakers are tied 1-1 in this first-round series even though they haven't regained their stride, haven't dictated how these games will be played, haven't even given their coach a clue about what to expect from them.
"Who knows?" Jackson said.
"Who knows how we're going to react to the next game?"
What if they can't even count on Kobe to put the ball in the hoop? He's 6-for-19 in his last five quarters and it wasn't until a dunk with 3:39 left in the game that he kept alive his streak of 151 playoff games with double-digit points (second all time to Michael Jordan's 179).
Meanwhile, Gasol has started a dubious streak of the opposite kind, failing to score 10 points in each of the first two games. After 2½ days of chatter, the Lakers don't really want to talk about his low-post struggles anymore, so they're finding ways to do something about it. One noticeable change was Jackson sending in Odom for Gasol in his first substitution, rather than replacing Bynum as usual.
Odom scored six points in the final 2½ minutes of the first quarter, helping the Lakers erase a six-point deficit, and they never trailed again. It was thanks in large part to a defense that held New Orleans to 55 points in the final three quarters, highlighted by Bryant becoming the primary defender on Chris Paul.
The Hornets' defensive game plan was equally effective. Their double-teams against Bryant arrived in time. They kept Gasol from establishing low-post position. They rotated well.
They just didn't have an answer for Bynum, who overpowered them and showed some extended shooting range to get to 17 points. Or Odom, who did his versatility thing, scoring on jumpers and drives, hitting 8 of 12 shots for 16 points to go with his seven rebounds.
"L.O. showed why he's Sixth Man of the Year," Chris Paul said.
If the Lakers' length doesn't get you, their depth will. They're like a complex geometry problem. Not many other teams with two All-Stars could survive their shooting a combined 5-for-20 in a playoff game. That's where Odom showed just how valuable a top reserve can be. Fans had the option of viewing the award on display in the Staples Center concourse throughout the game, or they could stay in their seats and watch the kind of play that led to it.
"Of course, after you get an award like that, you get a little selfish," Odom said. "You can't help but want to play well."
Still, it's not right for the NBA to dole out awards in the middle of the playoffs, rather than wait until the offseason, as baseball does. The NBA asks teams in the midst of pursuing a championship to stop and reflect on an individual accomplishment that occurred during the regular season. It certainly contributed to a disconnect between the Lakers' situation and their mood Tuesday. They were genuinely happy for their teammate, who choked up briefly when mentioning family members who weren't alive to see the moment, but mostly basked in his long-awaited moment of singular glory. The mood was so festive it was easy to forget the Lakers were down 1-0 in the series and had lost home-court advantage, until Odom himself provided a reminder.
"You all understand how important bench play is," Odom said. "We found that out in Game 1."
That was the game the Hornets' reserves outscored the Lakers' bench 39-21.
The Lakers turned that around in Game 2, with Odom personally outdoing the 13 points scored by the Hornets' bench, while Matt Barnes added eight points and Steve Blake had five assists in his first game back from a chickenpox bout.
Jackson tried to use the brief ceremony before Game 2, when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak handed the trophy to Odom on the middle of the Staples Center court, as a motivational tactic.
"I told the team today that the reason they made sure Lamar had this award [now] was because this could be the last game he plays in front of his home crowd," Jackson said. "So they want to make sure the award gets to him at the right time. Now go out and prove that they're wrong."
That's a different tack. The nerve of them, trying to hand out awards to our players. We'll show 'em.
Clearly, the Lakers needed a new means of stimulation. The arrival of the playoffs themselves didn't jump-start them. Not even their surprising setback in Game 1 could prompt a championship-level performance. No other team that watched their first two games should be in awe. Not even the Hornets, who can still win this series just by winning three home games.
The Lakers did play playoff-appropriate defense. New Orleans shot 39 percent and turned the ball over 16 times. It's just that the full offensive arsenal wasn't on display.
A pleading question from a local media member tried to determine if the Lakers have rediscovered their championship form.
"Have you found ... that ... it?" Bryant was asked.
The desperate nature was enough to crack Bryant's stony fašade and elicit a smile.
"I think we found something to hang our hats on," Bryant said. "The intensity to which we play with."
They're still missing an All-Star big man who plays like one. They're missing that opening salvo to start games. But at least they can feel secure they have the best in the business when it's time to send in a sub.
2. Ginobili's Night ... But Anybody's Series
SAN ANTONIO -- He went hunting for a weakside block when the ball went inside to Zach Randolph on the game's first possession. He quickly got reacquainted with the AT&T Center floor by flinging himself after countless loose balls. He even let Tim Duncan lift him up off that floor with a strong tug on his heavily padded right arm.
The only visible caution from Manu Ginobili on Wednesday night? You finally saw some after he drew a crucial charge with one of his signature sales jobs in crunch time on Tony Allen.
3. Daily Dime Live
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Wednesday's slate of NBA playoff talk in Daily Dime Live.
4. Thundering Start Hints At Future Heights
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder won't be planning any championship parades just yet, not when this group has yet to win a single playoff series.
But it was hard to watch Oklahoma City's onslaught in the first 15 minutes of its 106-89 win over the Nuggets on Wednesday without thinking the words "championship caliber." The Thunder's domination was so complete that they were up by 26 points, 43-17, with 8:44 left in the second quarter and from there cruised home to victory.
5. Extreme Behavior
J.R. Smith, Nuggets: Things got worse instead of better in a hurry when the reserve guard checked in for Denver. In just seven minutes of play, he went 1-for-6 from the floor, finishing with a plus/minus rating of minus-17.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"They were energized, they were more physical, they were quicker, probably smarter. ... The hole was just too big. When it looked like we could get it under 10, a 3-ball would go in or an offensive rebound would break our heart."
-- Nuggets coach George Karl on the Thunder's red-hot start to Game 2
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Sixers Double-Down On Wade
PHILADELPHIA -- At their heart, the Miami Heat are built on a "pick your poison" premise. Two games into their series, the Philadelphia 76ers are indeed picking their poison -- version No. 3 -- and perhaps setting a precedent other teams will follow in the postseason.
Sixers coach Doug Collins has been refreshingly frank about his team's situation thus far in the postseason. He has conceded that when the Heat play well his squad is the lesser team. The Sixers have yet to win a game, down 2-0 to Miami as the series moves to Philly for Thursday's Game 3 and probably the Sixers' last chance to make it competitive.
But Collins' more significant declaration is that he believes Dwyane Wade is the Heat's most important offensive piece. His game plans have reflected it. The Sixers attempted to squeeze Wade in the first two games of the series. Regardless of the statistics or anything else, Collins thinks that cutting Wade off as much as possible gives his team, and perhaps any team, the best chance to win.
8. Pitching In
9. Land O'Lakers
ESPN Los Angeles
After allowing a little fear to ripple through the greater Los Angeles area Sunday afternoon (lingering through off days Monday and Tuesday), the Lakers overcame a slow start to restore some order in their first-round matchup against New Orleans. Tied 1-1, the series heads to New Orleans for Game 3 Friday night.
The result was expected, as was the relatively comfortable margin of victory. How the Lakers got there, though, held a few surprises, starting with five field goals between Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Not exactly a conventional recipe for success.