For Odom, skill meets production

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Lamar Odom has always been a "What if?" kind of player.

The supremely-skilled Odom has been lavished with the kind of basketball gifts rarely seen in 6-foot-10 players. The former Rhode Island standout is an excellent shooter and rebounder with a deft passing touch, and a handle that would make any point guard envious.

But, instead of being compared with a Kevin Garnett, Odom is usually mentioned in the same breath as a Derrick Coleman, another tremendously gifted player that never got "it."

"How much talent can God bless one guy with?" Karl Malone said on TNT Thursday night. "Lamar Odom is one of the most talented guys (and) last I checked he wanted a new contract. Step up, big fella. He can handle the ball, he can shoot the three, great shot-blocker when he wants from the weak side. How much disruption are you going to cause?"

Malone, one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history, is far from the first to call out Odom. The Jamaica, Queens native sat down with the Zen Master himself before this season.

After watching Odom underachieve in last year's NBA Finals, Phil Jackson decided to tweak the basketball prodigy.

Jackson asked Odom to become a reserve, not exactly a comforting thought for a player entering his contract year. The mental manipulation was a pretty transparent ploy, an attempt to light a fire under the soft-spoken Odom, while clearing more minutes for the Lakers' rising star in the middle -- Andrew Bynum.

True to form, or at least true to public perception, Odom balked and publicly ridiculed his coach for daring to think that someone with his skill level should be starting games on the bench.

Fast forward to Los Angeles' just completed torturous, six-game road trip and Odom seems to have finally figured things out.

Off the court, the trek was misery for the Lakers. A collision between Kobe Bryant and Bynum shelved the Lakers' big man for at least eight weeks and possibly the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, the 11-day swing through some of the NBA's more chilly climates caught up with Bryant, who came down with a nasty case of the flu.

On the court the trip was an unqualified success, punctuated by season-highs in points (28) and rebounds (17) for Odom on Sunday, as the Lakers handed Cleveland its first home loss of the season, 101-91.

The win snapped a streak of 23 straight wins at Quicken Loans Arena by the Cavs, and served notice to the rest of the NBA -- the Lakers (Bynum or no- Bynum) that are the team to beat.

LA finished a perfect 6-0 on the trip, sweeping the season series against the East's two heavyweights, Cleveland and Boston.

Odom produced most of his damage on Sunday in a brilliant third quarter, compiling 15 points and 10 boards in the frame.

"It was the total package of his game," Jackson said of Odom's impact. "He was able to do things that broke people down with his speed and quickness to the basket."

Odom had been heavily criticized last year for playing softly against the Celtics' intimidating interior defense presence in the finals. In Thursday's overtime win in Boston, Odom netted 20 points and pulled down six boards.

In Cleveland, things only got better and it didn't go unnoticed.

"Way to play, Lamar Odom," Pau Gasol said. "Way to (expletive) play."

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