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Lakers 101, Hornets 97: Odom Keeps It Rolling

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If the Lakers continue to rack up wins, the "Lamar Odom is an All Star" movement is likely to gather some serious steam. The man is stringing together performances that are productive and well rounded and that fill in whatever cracks threaten to destabilize the Lakers' foundation. Tonight at Staples Center, his assured and confident form was on display as the champs took care of the New Orleans Hornets101 to 97, in a contest that was maybe not quite as close as the final score would lead you to believe. In 31 minutes off the bench, Lamar scored 17 points, pulled in 13 rebounds, blocked a pair of shots, committed zero turnovers and contributed some crucial defense down the stretch.

As a team, the Lakers had another strong offensive outing. Per our hopes and recommendations, they exploited their size mismatches inside to get close looks at the hoop, earn visits to the free-throw line and crush the smaller Hornets on the offensive glass. Pau Gasol (21 points on 14 shots, including free-throw possessions) and Andrew Bynum (17 points and 14 shots) did their share of damage in the post, while Kobe Bryant (25 points on 21 shots) focused on the midrange game, in the process moving past Oscar Robertson for ninth on the NBA's all-time scoring list. A vigorous 1.17 points per possession mark speaks well of an attack that's finding its stride again after the nightmarish stretch against Milwaukee, Miami and San Antonio.

The Laker D was, if not good exactly, then good enough. The Hornets found it rather too easy to get the ball inside, which led to a lot of desperate hacking and 26 New Orleans free-throw attempts, the most by a Laker opponent in a month, and the three-point defense was overly loose at times. But to their credit, the purp and yellow did a fine job of controlling Chris Paul. Though the star point guard collected 10 assists, he took only nine shots and committed three turnovers, and you never got the sense that he was sewing confusion in the Laker defense. Credit Phil Jackson's willingness to throw different defenders at Paul - variously, Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and even Ron Artest could be found guarding him - as well as the indomitable length of the Laker bigs, which appeared to discourage Paul from venturing into the lane as much as he normally might.

This wasn't a game of breathtaking runs. The Lakers' first cushion developed at the beginning of the second quarter. With three reserves on the floor to start the period, the Hornets struggled greatly to generate points, coming up empty on eight of their first 10 possessions. Meanwhile Bynum and Odom found space to work inside and dropped in some point-blank buckets. Thus a three-point lead at the end of the first was stretched to nine midway through the quarter.

It didn't take long, though, for the New Orleans offense to pick itself up off the mat. Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza got warm from the outside, and Emeka Okafor grounded and pounded his way to a few buckets, and for a few minutes in the middle of the third the Hornets actually held a one-point lead. But Kobe, Pau and Lamar rededicated themselves to sound ball movement and, with the help of a timely Ron Artest three, the Lakers rebuilt their cushion back to nine by the end of the period.

The visitors stayed within reach throughout the fourth without ever making a serious bid to steal the win. The lead got chipped down to four with about five minutes left, but Lamar hit consecutive midrange jumpers to keep the Hornets at arm's length. With a minute to play, David West had a good look on the baseline that would've brought New Orleans within three. Again Odom rode to the rescue, making an aggressive challenge to force the miss. The final seconds became a herky-jerky free-throw session that saw the Lakers drain just enough to salt away their third straight W.

The champs are starting to look a bit more cohesive these days. We're beginning to see games in which the stars are meshing together and playing well at the same time. Tonight was the first time this season when you could fairly say that Kobe, Pau, Bynum and Lamar all contributed commensurately with their talents. And don't look now, but Ron has had three consecutive decent shooting games. Since the disaster against Memphis, he's made 7 of 11 from long distance.

What I'm enjoying most at the moment, though, is how Lamar is emerging as a more consistent presence. Last year, it seemed, once a week we'd go through the routine of wondering, "Where the hell was Lamar last night?" He now seems much steadier. He's not just disappearing at random. Like anyone else he still has the occasional cold shooting night, but he's no longer receding into the woodwork. Every night out, he's forcing opponents to account for the versatility of his game.

There were a couple unsexy developments this evening. Matt Barnes sprained a knee in the second quarter and did not return to the game. He'll be MRI'd tomorrow. And Steve Blake hurt his ankle when he stepped on Bynum's foot while guarding Paul. After the game, Mike Trudell tweeted the following:

Phil Jackson said he is concerned with Barnes's knee injury (MRI tomorrow) but thinks Blake (sprained ankle) could play Sunday.

Also, the great D.J. Mbenga got his ring tonight in a pregame ceremony accompanied by a standing O by the Staples crowd, but then Hornets coach Monty Williams refused to give him any run during the game. Seriously, Monty? You couldn't take a few of Aaron Gray's minutes and give them to D.J.? Don't even think about showing your face in this town again.

The Lakers are now 26-11, still third in the West. Next on the docket is a very interesting matchup against the Knicks on Sunday night. Enjoy the rest of your Friday, everyone.











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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.