Foul trouble plaguing Lakers’ Odom

Published 4:21 pm Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lamar Odom was surrounded. Dozens of microphones and notepads closed in, cutting off every escape route for the Lakers’ forward. There was nowhere to go, so he stood firm and answered questions about his troubles in the NBA finals.

Why wasn’t he playing well? He was asked.

Why has he been in foul trouble? Someone wondered.

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The media was tough.

The Celtics have been tougher.

Odom, who can go from magnificent to maddening in the course of one trip down the court, has been a major disappointment so far for Los Angeles, which will try to even the best-of-seven series against Boston in Game 4 on Thursday night.

He’s averaging just 9.3 points — 5 below his regular-season average — and has spent much of the past two games sitting a few seats down from Lakers coach Phil Jackson after picking up five personal fouls in all three games.

It hasn’t gone the way Odom would like, but he’s trying to stay positive.

“You have to persevere,” he said. “Right now, it’s about the L.A. Lakers, not Lamar Odom. If I could just stay on the court to help the team do whatever, whether it’s rebounding or making plays. You can’t expect for every game to be a 20-point game in the finals.

“I’ll go watch the tape over and over again and just see what I can do.”

Wednesday was an off day as both team assessed Game 3, one of the ugliest finals games in recent memory.

“It wasn’t the prettiest game,” said Celtics center Kevin Garnett, who missed two dunks and seems to have left his shooting touch back in May.

For two franchises that have combined for 30 titles won by a Who’s Who of Hall of Fame hoopsters, it was indeed a night to forget.

But playing in front of their celebrity-laden crowd in Staples Center, where they’re 9-0 in the postseason and perfect over the past two months, the Lakers, despite missing 13 free throws and getting little from Odom or center Pau Gasol, pulled to 2-1 in the reborn rivalry series with an 87-81 victory.

Boston, for its many warts, which included a 35 percent shooting performance, still had a chance win.

As the teams practiced for Game 4, several players blamed the six-hour flight from Boston to Los Angeles for the sloppiness.

“I think most of the players out there struggled physically,” Gasol said. “You could tell the travel and Game 2 and 3 being so tight together, going across the country pretty much is an overseas trip. It was like going back to Spain. I think that was a factor.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, too, noticed players may have been feeling the effects of jet lag and fighting fatigue.

“This was the first game that I had four or five different players during the game signal to pull them out,” he said. “I had to blow a timeout, one that I didn’t want to use late. I thought it was a very tough turnaround and I think rest is very important.”

One guy seems refreshed. Kobe Bryant soared as usual.

The Lakers’ superstar scored 36 points, and showing why he’s the league’s MVP, did what he had to do to get his team back into the finals. Bryant went 12-of-20 from the floor, dropping jumpers, hanging in the air to sink floaters and drawing double teams to set up his teammates.

However, only one of them — Sasha Vujacic — matched Bryant’s production. The 24-year-old came off the bench and scored a career-high 20 points, but “The Machine,” as he dubbed himself, was the only Lakers player besides Bryant to rise to the occasion in the must-est of must-win games.

Los Angeles’ other four starters — Gasol, Odom, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Derek Fisher — combined for 22 points on 7-of-28 shooting.

Bryant, known to be tough on his teammates, has faith Odom and Gasol will bounce back.

“They’ll be fine,” he said. “We’re playing a great team. It’s not like it’s going to be easy for them. It’s a matter of them figuring out where those spots are going to be attacking them. They’re both very smart, intelligent basketball players and they’ll be fine.”

The Celtics have their own problems, like getting Garnett going and hoping that Paul Pierce, who had a horrid homecoming in Game 3, doesn’t choke under the pressure of playing in front of folks from his neighborhood in nearby Inglewood.

There’s also the playing status of point guard Rajon Rondo, who injured his left ankle early in the second half of Game 3 and was kept out of practice on Wednesday.

Rivers said if the speedy Rondo is slowed by the injury that backups Eddie House and Sam Cassell would see more time. Rivers also may use Tony Allen, who did a solid job of guarding Bryant during Boston’s two wins over Los Angeles during the regular season.

Cassell is one of the few Celtics with finals experience. He won two championship rings with Houston and has been trying to tell his teammates to relax and not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the event.

“It’s the same game, it’s just a bigger stage,” Cassell said. “You’re not at your high school auditorium any more. This is Carnegie Hall.”

Pierce admitted feeling nerves in his return to L.A., and his stats line (2-for-14 from the field, 0-for-4 on 3-pointers, six points in 32 minutes) reflected his anxiety. He said he wasn’t bothered by the sprain knee he suffered in Game 1, but the strain of being home may have been too much.

“I was probably a little more anxious than normal being that I’m at home in front of more family and more friends,” he said. “I’ve got to block that out and go out there and leave it on the court. I’ve done it in the past, I’ve been out there and played and played well, and it’s time for me to do it again.”