05/03/2007 - 09:33
Heart of a Champion
LO left it all on the floor Thursday, scoring a career playoff high 33 points to go with 10 rebounds, but even his superb performance was not enough. The Lakers fell to the Phoenix Suns last night, 119-110, giving Phoenix a 4-1 win in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
No. 7 rallied Los Angeles just as he had in Game 4, scoring 16 points in the third quarter. Still, the Lakers came up short. As LO told the Los Angeles Times:
"It's too bad we started the season with ups instead of ending with them," Odom said. "We got beat … and it's time to go home."
Despite Los Angeles' failure to move on in the postseason, Lamar earned tremendous respect for his effort in the series, playing through a torn labrum, hyperextended elbow, injured knee and stitches to turn in some of the most outstanding games of his career.
Marc Stein of ESPN.com led the praise:
If there's been a braver player in the NBA this season, I'd love to hear about him. Because I don't see one.
After long-term knee and shoulder injuries -- which followed the unspeakable loss of his six-month-old son over the summer -- Odom just keeps playing on, trying as hard as he can to be Kobe's Scottie Pippin.
He's still not there, agreed, but I don't think he ever had a chance this season. Not after a bad knee sprain in December and definitely not after the shoulder tear he suffered in March, which should have sent him to surgery if Odom hadn't vowed to delay the operation until after the season.
There was also a hyperextended elbow Odom picked up during the Phoenix series, as if the man with the NBA's heaviest heart hadn't suffered enough.
(An aside: The first thing that catches your eye when you walk into the Lakers' locker room is a supersized white T-shirt hanging in Odom's locker, sporting the smiling likeness of his late son Jayden. Basketball might be his sanctuary, but Odom was intent on keeping Jayden's spirit close by even at work.)
Tony Mejia of CBS Sportsline expressed similar sentiments:
It was great to see Odom go down swinging after the year he's had, finishing with a career playoff-high 33 points. Odom, truly one of the good guys, experienced a terrible personal tragedy when he lost his infant son in the offseason, and still fought through that pain along with elbow, shoulder and knee issues to lift the Lakers as best he could. Before his body started betraying him, he was playing the best basketball of his career, incredible considering what his mental state had to have been. If you want someone to root for, pick that guy. Fighting through that type of adversity? Simply admirable.
The sad reality for LO: His courage during the playoffs only reaffirmed that outside of Kobe Bryant, he is the most valuable piece of the current Lakers roster, which many feel needs to be overhauled.
"I love it here," Odom told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times and ESPN's "Around the Horn." "I hope I have done enough to prove that I belong here the rest of my career. But as a team, sometimes you get stuck between a rock and a hard place. We're expected to win, and we haven't won, and they're going to do everything they can to get back to winning."
However, many experts -- including Chad Ford of ESPN.com -- feel that Los Angeles is best off keeping LO on its roster:
"I'm not sure I trade Odom. To me he's the perfect fit in LA."
Lakers Go With No Flow (May 3, 2007, Los Angeles Times)
Lakers/Suns Game 5 Boxscore (May 2, 2007, NBA.com)
After Disappointing Season, Kobe Wants Changes Now (May 3, 2007, ESPN.com)
Top 10 Playoff Truths (May 3, 2007, CBS Sportsline)
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