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Tonight, when the Lakers take the floor in the underrated city of Charlotte (5:30, KCAL9), it will be their 10th game since Lamar Odom went down with a sprained knee. It also is the end of their first long road trip.

How have they done through a tough stretch of the schedule without the guy assistant coach Tex Winter called “the foundation” of the team? An inconsistent but pretty good 5-4, thank you very much. (For the record, I’m counting the game where Odom went down in that, but since he only played three minutes it seems fair.) Even better, Laker fans should be ready to enjoy New Year’s Eve weekend — tonight the Lakers play the 7-21 and offensively challenged Bobcats, followed on Sunday against the 7-21 and missing the only player who was really good Philadelphia 76ers.

So what are the Lakers doing differently without Odom? Well, Kobe is taking on more of the offense: Three more shots per game, one more free throw and two more points per game. But we would have expected that — frankly I would have expected even more Kobe.

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But each game he gets a little help from somewhere else. Against Orlando a couple nights ago it was Smush “why doesn’t he play with that intensity every game” Parker who took over the third quarter (and he is averaging two more points per game since Odom went down). Against the New Jersey Nets it was Maurice Evans off the bench with a stellar fourth quarter. And against Minnesota it was Vladimir Radmanovic doing his “Borat dance” after his best game of the year (he is averaging 4 points per game more since Odom’s injury).

It all adds up to why the Lakers are 19-9 so far — this is a deep team with far more options than the last two years. Last season if Kobe didn’t dominate, the Lakers were about as intimidating as an Olsen twin. This season, in any given game somebody is going to step up — which is why this team is growing on fans.

AP photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack