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Getting the Point

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Lamar Odom has been the John Travolta of the Lakers: For the first three games of the season it was an amazing performance, such as Pulp Fiction (or averaging 28 points per game); for the next three it was more like Battlefield Earth (averaging 13.3). It wasn’t just this season — inconsistency was Odom’s middle name last year as he deferred to Kobe and couldn’t find his space.

The problem has been that Odom is not Scottie Pippen. When Phil Jackson returned for his second tour of duty in L.A. (and $10 million a year), there were visions of the early ’90s Chicago Bulls teams dancing in our heads — Kobe as the attacking Jordan, Odom as the point-forward Pippen, and the perfect complement of role players around them. (I guess that makes Kwame Brown the Will Perdue for this example, in which case I apologize now to Kwame and his entire family.)

But while Pippen thrived in that role, Odom has never been comfortable at the point, or what Phil Jackson calls the “initiator,” bringing the ball up the court and creating offense. When he got the ball in the post or on the wing, he looked amazing — see those first three games this season — but as the initiator out beyond the three point line he was, well, Travoltaesque.

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Sunday night Phil reversed the roles — Kobe was the initiator (the role he played in the Shaq/Kobe/Phil era of the Lakers) and Odom was back in his comfort spot closer to the basket. The result: Odom had 20 points and 16 rebounds, Kobe had 21 points and six assists and the Lakers looked maybe the best they have all season.

So we can expect to see more of that -- but that doesn't solve the point guard problem completely. The triangle offense the Lakers run asks just a couple things of what people traditionally see as the small, ball-handling point guard: Play defense and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers. Smush Parker played that role fairly well last season, hitting threes at a 36.6% clip, although his defense was lacking. This season his defense is no better (opposing point guards are shooting 52.5% [eFG%] against him), but now he's shooting just 35.3% overall and 32.3% on threes.

Rookie Jordan Farmar is playing good defense (opposing point guards are shooting an unimpressive 41.3% against him) but is shooting just 40% overall and 17% from three. And making rookie mistakes. Right now that is still good enough to push Smush for minutes, but doesn't solve the problems.

However, having Kobe out on top makes things look a lot better.

AP photo by Chris Pizzello