Arash Markazi
Wednesday May 28th, 2008

As Lamar Odom stood in front of his locker after the Lakers' 93-91 victory Tuesday, trying to perfect the Windsor knot in his tie, he didn't think twice when asked about the biggest difference between Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals

"We went to dinner with each other," said Odom, before screaming across the tight visitors' locker room at fellow starting forward Vladimir Radmanovic. "Vlade, what was the name of that steakhouse we went to? Bohanan's? Yeah, I recommend it."

Wait, no adjustments, no personnel changes, no meditation sessions with the Zen Master?

"Just dinner," said Odom, as he continued to fix his tie.

It's become a tradition for the Lakers this season to break bread before every playoff series. The outings have become famous ever since Kobe Bryant picked up the tab before the series against Utah after learning he would be named MVP. He later handed his teammates $9,000 watches at the dinner prior to the San Antonio series. But this was an odd gathering. It was moments after Los Angeles suffered its worse loss of these playoffs, a 103-84 drubbing to the Spurs in Game 3, and the Lakers gathered in the back room at Bohanan's, an easy walk from their downtown San Antonio hotel.

"I tell guys it's easy to go to dinner with each other when you win and hang out," said Odom, "but it's important to go to dinner and hang out when you lose, and that's what we did. That's really what helped us stay tough, stay poised and stay together, especially when things weren't going our way."

The dinner was planned and paid for by Derek Fisher, who actually had made reservations before Game 3, hoping the get-together would help focus the team on the job at hand, which was to close out the Spurs. As it was, it ended up being even more important in preventing the series from going back to Los Angeles tied 2-2.

"I had a new credit card I wanted to try out," said Fisher as he left the locker room following Game 4. "I felt like when I made the plan Sunday afternoon, I felt it was going to be important, win or lose. Obviously, I expected us to win the game coming in, but I felt like it would be important for us to spend some time. Hopefully, [we'd be] talking about what we did to win and what we need to do to close out the series. Then, after losing [Game 3], I felt like it was even more important. I was just glad guys wanted to join in."

It may seem small, but for a team that had been so splintered in past years, the dinners have helped unify a group that rarely talked to each other outside of games and practices.

"Look at the guys in this locker room, we're a team now," said Radmanovic. "Kobe is playing unselfish basketball and getting everyone involved more than ever in his career, and guys really appreciate that. Being a superstar is one thing, but being a superstar that's on the same level as other guys helps. He realizes it and team morale is so much better than it was last year."

A good example of that was when reserves Jordan Farmar and Ronny Turiaf chided Bryant about failing to get to the free-throw line on Tuesday after attempting only one free throw in Game 3.

"Did he make it?" asked Farmar.

"Nope," said Turiaf, with a smile.

"Zero percent," said Farmar.

"Kobe Bryant, zero percent," said Turiaf.

Odom laughs as he hears the Lakers' Bench Mob rile the team's superstar. They've come a long way since the days he had to, as he says, serve "as the good cop to Kobe's bad cop."

"We have a tight team now, and it starts at the top," says Odom. "Kobe is one of the best athletes ever. It's something that he has inside of him that some of the great ones don't, to be honest. There are only a few people that can take shots with four people on him and will it to go in. I like to call him Kobe-Wan Kenobi."

That is until the check comes for the next team dinner.

"Then we call him MVP," said guard Sasha Vujacic. "He's always the MVP when that happens."

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