PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – No one really knows whether Lamar Odom holds any emotions about playing against his former team Wednesday night. He was busy working on his free throws after practice Tuesday, and the Clippers said he had a meeting to attend, so he wasn’t available to talk.
It would be understandable if Odom was looking forward to facing the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center. His one season with the Mavs was a disaster of his own making, and it ended so badly that the team parted ways with him 50 games into last season and left him inactive for the playoffs.
On Wednesday, Odom will face the Mavericks for the first time since they severed ties by mutual agreement. He was traded to the Clippers in a four-way deal in June and has been trying to rejuvenate his career ever since.
It hasn’t been easy, but Odom, who is still about 10 pounds overweight, has given the Clippers two consecutive productive games off the bench – good timing if he hopes to show his old team he’s back in the game.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, asked about any emotions Odom might be feeling, said, “I think he’s past that. I think he’s very comfortable where he’s at right now in terms of everything involved. He’s not very comfortable with his game, and that’s why he’s working so hard. We have a lot of faith in him, and it’s going to pay dividends down the road.”
They’re already seeing it. Last Saturday, Odom had six points, five rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes against the Sacramento Kings. On Monday in Utah, he totaled a season-high seven points and added six rebounds (four offensive) in 18 minutes. He was active around the ball, passed well and contributed a key 3-point play in the fourth quarter as the Clippers rallied for a 105-104 win.
But there’s still work to do, Del Negro said.
“I just want Lamar to stay the course right now,” he said. “He’s in here early working out, he’s in here late working out. You can see his timing coming back a little bit, and you can see his lift coming back a little bit. He took a couple of big charges for us last night, (got) some rebounds, a couple of layups, spaced the court for us – all the things I know he’s capable of doing.
“And the thing I’m most pleased with is that he’s here every day. He’s grinding it out. He knows he’s got a ways to go, but you can tell when he’s out there he makes a difference for us, and it’s only going to get better if we stay with the process.”
Odom’s teammates feel it, too. As his conditioning improves, he’ll likely get more minutes on the court when the Clippers call on their reserves.
“He’s coming along,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “He’s getting a feel for it. He’s starting to be more aggressive offensively, which we want him to be and not just look to pass. Once he gets everything right and gets more confident out there, he’s going to be a big part of our second unit.”
It was the Clippers’ bench that helped the team come back from 14 points behind in the third quarter. It was an impressive rally, especially in Utah, but Del Negro focused more on his starters’ slow start.
The Clippers were so lackadaisical defensively that the Jazz shot 73.7 percent in the first period in what Del Negro called “a layup drill.”
“I think it’s important to learn from what we did wrong and what put us in a bad situation in the first three quarters,” said Blake Griffin, who scored a season-high 30 points. “We watched the tape and saw those things, and tomorrow our starters need to come out from the beginning and do a better job, myself included, of getting a lead and a better jump on the ball early.”