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Lamar Odom the Difference-Maker for the Lakers

I've got a confession to make: I'm writing a column about a player on a team that's playing in a series that I haven't even watched yet.

First, the sorry excuses. On Monday night, during the Los Angeles Lakers' 128-107 neat and tidy disposal of the Phoenix Suns, I was playing kickball (we won, by the way) and then getting my, um, butt handed to me in Fifa 2010 so badly that I kept playing until the Lakers game was over, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I could improve my corner kicks and not feel so embarrassed. (Side note: My man, Ben, was checking on the score to make sure it wasn't close.) Then on Wednesday night, my organization had one of our three huge fundraisers. So I was kind of busy with that all night.

Now that I've cleared that up, let me give you my thoughts on the series I haven't watched. And, honestly, so far it hasn't needed watching. The box scores say it all. And believe me on this -- I've watched enough Lakers basketball to know what takes them from a really good team to an unstoppable one.

Lamar Odom.

Simple as that. Check out what the bench player did in Games 1 and 2 (a 124-112 victory) against the Suns: 19 points, 19 rebounds; 17 points, 11 rebounds. Absolutely spectacular numbers for a bench player. The entire Suns bench put together 26 points and nine boards in Game 2. Wow.

That's too much of a burden for the Suns to overcome when you factor in the Lakers having, you know, the most clutch player in basketball -- a guy named Kobe -- and perhaps the most underrated, consistent big man in the game, scoring machine Pau Gasol.

Too much.

Of course, this series isn't over. I've stuck by this tenet for many years (and now, even, the big-time pundits use it): A series can't be declared over until a team wins on the other team's homecourt ... until a Game 7, of course. So don't pencil this series in.

But if Odom plays like he did the first two games, forget about it. After the Game 2 victory, Bryant was asked what makes the Lakers so tough. Versatility, he said. And, yep, he's right. When Odom, at 6-foot-10, is playing aggressive and smart (read: not settling for 3-pointers; he's a horrible outside shooter), using his strength and length to get to the basket and score or set up others, additionally putting himself in position for offensive rebounds, the Lakers are unbeatable outside of a Kobe injury, a Gasol injury or some freaky thing like Leandro Barbosa dropping 50.

So far this series, the Suns have no answer for Odom. He has dominated with his long arms, springy feet and basketball wits. He has made Amare Stoudemire, who has a combined nine rebounds between the two games, resemble Bill Wennington (sorry, Amare). And he's only taken two 3-pointers, not giving the Suns any dumb decisions to fuel their fast-paced offensive mobile.

Stat of the series: The Lakers are +32 when Odom is on the floor. That's not quite as good as Bryant's +36 and not close to Gasol's ridiculous +41, but I think it says a little something about the big fella's impact. He's all over the place, making plays and frustrating a Suns team that can't afford to give up any extra shots (they're porous enough, already, on the defensive end). Odom has 10 offensive rebounds in the two games.

You want past numerical proof of Odom's impact? Look at last year's Finals, a 4-1 series victory for the Lakers over Orlando. And forget about Game 4, which the Magic completely blew at the end (oh, by the way, Odom had a poor game):

Game 1: Lakers win handily -- Odom 11 points, 14 boards
Game 2: Lakers in in OT -- Odom 19 points, 8 boards
Game 3: Magic win tight one -- Odom 11 points, 2 boards
Game 5: Lakers roll -- Odom 17 points, 10 boards

The man is, as the experts would say, the Lakers' X-factor. No, not all by himself. It's hard to figure how last year's champions would have fared sans tough-as-bricks, money-in-crunch-time Derek Fisher. All he does is hit big shots (he saved the Lakers in that Game 4 Orlando debacle). And Ron Artest has made a difference as well, knocking down three huge 3-pointers in Game 2 when the Suns' defense sagged.

But here's the bottom line: The Lakers' most valuable players list goes like this -- 1. Um, Kobe; 2. Gasol; 3. Odom. Yes, that's right. A bench player ranks ahead of three starters. It's a fact.

The dangerous thing about Odom is that there are times when he appears uncaring on the court, chucking up 3s and not banging bodies down low for boards. That was apparent in at least two of the Lakers' losses to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals when he was a starter -- Odom had a decent night in Boston's Game 6 clincher, but that far from mattered the way the Lakers, um Kobe, tanked.

But these last two postseasons, he's mostly been the Good Odom. And we're seeing the results.

So if you're like me, and actually can't watch all the playoff games (no worries: I should be good for the rest of the postseason), try this before simply looking up the score on your Blackberry/iPhone/Droid/etc.: Google Lamar Odom, pull up his stat line and then make an educated guess as to who won.

Sure, Barbosa might have dropped that 50. But more than likely, a good night by Odom means a Lakers win.

There aren't many surer things in this shaky world we live in.


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