MAGIC OR FOOLâ€™S GOLD: Lamar Odom has been compared to Magic Johnson since his NBA career started but itâ€™s been a balance of hot performances and disappearing acts. Against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals, he has a chance to shine and make his mark. (Jeff Lewis/Sentinel)
Fans hope Game 1 performance was sign of things to come, not prelude to another disappearing act
By Evan Barnes,Sentinel Sports Editor
If there's one player who can benefit the most from the Western Conference Finals, it's Lamar Odom. If there's one player who'll miss the opportunity to shine, it's Lamar Odom.
The most polarizing Lakers player in recent memory, Odom's an immensely talented, yet inconsistent star who either makes the team better or drags them down.
So where does that leave him in the Western Conference Finals? In a perfect position to shut up dissatisfied critics after finding his game against Utah.
He showed that on Monday with a 19-point, 19-rebound performance in Game 1. On a night when Andrew Bynum was ineffective, Odom had his best game of the season.
But celebrating a great night should no longer be acceptable. Most fans would rather celebrate if Odom showed this level of aggression more often.
His career has been a mix of brilliance and disappearance. He started as the face of what was thought to be a Clippers resurgence at the start of the 2000's - a team loaded with youth and talent that never got the chance to reach their potential.
In Miami briefly, he led the Heat to the playoffs in the 2003-2004 season. Still, he showed why he'd end up playing second fiddle, as a rookie Dwyane Wade flashed the brilliance in the clutch that he lacked.
With the Lakers, he never proved himself a worthy No. 2 option. Fans groaned that they got shafted in trading away Shaquille O'Neal, who finished the runner-up in the 2005 MVP voting and won a ring the following year.
Now he's the most scrutinized sixth man in the league. A matchup nightmare who often gives fans nightmares of their own.
He shares something in common with LeBron James - no matter what he does, people won't be satisfied. Their unselfishness is a court asset and a detriment.
It might seem like a stretch but skill for skill, Odom could easily match LeBron. The only that separates and defines them is their drive or lack of it.
Only his play in the NBA Finals helped save him from possibly being traded last summer.
Against a smaller Phoenix team, there's no reason Odom can't have his way. As the Lakers have rebounded in the postseason, so has he.
In the second round, he took advantage of the smaller Jazz team and upped his scoring (7.8 to 9.5 points per game) and rebounding (6.8-10.0). Game 1 should give fans hope for a greater showing against a similar Suns team.
He was too fast for Amar'e Stoudemire, who didn't get the memo Odom is a lefty. Too hungry to leave missed shots lying around as he nearly outrebounded the entire Phoenix frontcourt (21 rebounds total).
The Suns may have no answer for Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant but if Odom decides to place his stamp on this series, it'll be over soon enough.
Course, that depends on Lucky No. 7. For all we know, Game 3 could see him revert back to Mr. Invisible.
What separates Odom for becoming an All-Star is desire. The will to attack every night and not settle for the game coming to him.
It's what makes his game more of a bonus than a valuable asset. Assets are reliable. Bonuses are appreciated but not expected.
Odom only has to look across the court at Channing Frye, a 6-11 big man who's more at home on the perimeter and has become a solid shooter.
The two are similar in size and style but definitely not skill. Frye was a non-factor in Game 1 but with the series heading back to Phoenix this weekend, that could change.
Let's hope the roles don't reverse for Odom in the same setting. Let's hope Monday was the start of something similar to last year's NBA Finals and not a typical flash in the pan.
If anybody has the chance to prove himself in this series, Lamar Odom does. Game 1 was a step in the right direction.