Tuesday June 10th, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- The obvious fix for the Lakers will be to restore Lamar Odom's production Tuesday in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics are murdering them inside by playing a physical style that the Lakers are unlikely to match. To win their way back into the series, the Lakers must come up with an alternative approach that trumps the strength that the Celtics have established.

Thus their need for the 6-foot-10 Odom. He needs to create mismatches against the Celtics with his perimeter shooting as well as by driving to the basket. This season, he was a playmaker who averaged 3.5 assists per game, but during the Finals he has totaled three assists and two turnovers. He has been in foul trouble both nights while providing 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds, well short of his season averages of 14.2 and 10.6, respectively.

"Lamar got confused out there,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after Boston had taken a 2-0 series lead. "Situations that got him into foul trouble and little offensive sequences -- rather than just taking a shot or making the right play, [he] looked like a confused player out there at times. We'll try and get that straightened out.''

So aggressive and confident are the Celtics of being able to protect the paint that they've been able to swarm on Odom while holding Kobe Bryant to 40.8 percent shooting from the floor. Maybe a return home will help Bryant break out, which in turn will create seams of opportunity for Odom. In Game 2, however, Odom grew frustrated while driving his way into fouls, and in the fourth quarter he never left the bench even as L.A. threatened to shatter the Celtics' confidence by narrowing their 24-point lead down to two with 38 seconds remaining.

The Celtics left Boston pleased to have established their superiority inside. But both teams know the Lakers had chances to steal each of the opening games, and they'll try to turn the corner by realizing better production from mainstays like Odom, Derek Fisher (41.2 percent for his 12.0 points) and center Pau Gasol, who has been the open man for L.A. -- much as Zydrunas Ilgauskas was when the Celtics focused on closing off the Cavaliers' LeBron James two rounds ago. Gasol has averaged 16.0 points while shooting 60.2 percent, but after aggressively attacking the rim in the first half of Game 2, he was forgotten (four field-goal attempts in the final two quarters) as the Lakers ceded the paint to Boston.

The Lakers also will be expecting to earn more free-throw attempts after Jackson and others complained about the Celtics' 38-10 advantage in Game 2. This was an unexpected gain for Boston, which had been operating at a free-throw deficit in most games this postseason.

Can the Lakers convert their dramatic fourth quarter in Game 2 into something lasting and real? To do so, they must incorporate Odom in order to increase the production of their front line. They can't expect to win the NBA Finals solely from the perimeter.

Bryant sounded confident before boarding the Lakers' charter home for Game 3.

"We did a much better job in getting to the rim and moving the ball well and hitting my shooters and them knocking their shots down,'' he said. "We have to get those loose balls. We've got to get timely rebounds, and we have to stop them in transition [from] knocking down those threes.''

And then? "We'll be fine,'' he said. "A free throw or two wouldn't hurt.''

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