By Arash Markazi
May 30, 2009

DENVER -- As Lamar Odom stood in front of his locker, a bulge still protruding out of a lower back marked with scars from the dozens of patches, braces and pads that have been strapped to it, he squinted as he bent down to clean up the mini pharmacy he had set up before the game.

Odom, who had 20 points and eight rebounds off the bench to help the Lakers beat the Nuggets 119-92 (RECAP | BOX) and win their second straight Western Conference title Friday, could hardly speak as he closed his mouth and coughed in between sentences. He excused himself as he sprayed Chloraseptic into his mouth, sucked on a few throat lozenges and downed a bottle of water.

"I walked to 7-11 when we got off the plane and got all this stuff," said Odom pointing to a bag full of medicine and an empty 24-pack of water. "I finished a whole case of water and I'm trying to get better but I've been having night sweats. I really need to rest."

Despite struggling to walk (he suffered a back contusion against Houston two weeks ago) and barely being able to talk, Odom and the rest of the Lakers bench did their part to avoid a weekend Game 7 against the Nuggets. The Lakers bench, which also got 10 points from Luke Walton, outscored the Nuggets bench 40-34 after getting pummeled 42-24 in Denver on Monday.

"They have a great bench, but we have a great bench too," said Walton. "We made it a point before the game to come out and compete and win the match-up between the two benches. They outperformed us a couple games and we weren't going to let that happen tonight."

Odom, who had 12 points and three rebounds in the fourth quarter, put together two great performances (he had 19 points and 14 rebounds Wednesday) for the first time in these playoffs, and not surprisingly, the Lakers put together their best back-to-back games this postseason.

The tired old theory about the Lakers is that when and if Odom can find a way to string together a run of great games the Lakers are an unstoppable force. Nuggets coach George Karl has often said that Odom is one of his favorite players in the league and that the Lakers are a better team when Odom and not Andrew Bynum, who had two points and one rebound in 21 minutes, is starting. The problem is that Odom has failed to show he can be the kind of player everyone expects him to be on a consistent basis.

He's like the smart kid in class who can easily get straight A's and be valedictorian, but far too often gets by with a blasé "C's get degrees" attitude. As easy as Odom makes basketball look at times -- with his 6-foot-10, 230-pound frame running the offense like a point guard one minute and banging the boards like a center the next -- getting him to play up to his potential has been nearly impossible during his career.

Yet as Odom crumples the Conference Championship shirt and hat into his bag, he knows that his time is now. Not so much because he is a free agent this summer, although that helps, but because after being criticized for disappearing in the NBA Finals last year, he knows that there is no other time and no other venue for him to reveal the player most have been waiting a decade to see. It's now or never for the league's biggest enigma.

"It's my tenth year and I'm 29, how many more chances am I going to get?" said Odom. "Maybe five more? You never know."

Odom, however, isn't alone in his inability to always play up to his potential. Outside of Kobe Bryant and maybe Pau Gasol, the Lakers roster is filled with players whose numbers fluctuate like stocks and are just as unpredictable. They rarely ever all come to play, but when they do (and Game 5 and 6 has been as close as they've come), it's truly a thing of beauty.

"The scary thing is I don't think at any point this season have we all clicked at the same time. Hopefully that's still yet to come," said Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw looking at the players in the locker room before he walked out. "We've had the starting unit playing well but the bench not play well or the bench play well but starters not play well. When we finally get it together it's going to be a sight to see."

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