It’s something they’d never admit publicly, but the L.A. Lakers didn’t really care that they lost to the Clippers in last night’s regular season finale. When you’re the defending NBA champs and you’ve secured the best record in your conference for the third straight year, the real season doesn’t start until the playoffs get underway.
Lamar Odom put up 21 points and 8 boards last night, his second-highest point total since he moved into the starting lineup to replace injured Andrew Bynum in late-March. With Bynum (Achilles) expected to rejoin the lineup in L.A.’s first-round series against Oklahoma City, Odom will eventually move back to the bench, but he’s still the Lakers’ third-best player and a key cog in their chances of repeating as champs. Shortly before the Lakers/Clippers game, I got up with L.O. for a few minutes to talk about what’s next for L.A. in the postseason:
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Dime: I asked Tony Parker once what keeps him motivated after winning three championships. He said it was winning a fourth, a fifth, a sixth ring.
Lamar Odom: Yeah, it’s crazy because it’s never enough, dude. After winning the championship once, I don’t want to see nobody else doing it. Especially when you play on a team like the Lakers that’s known for doing it. We’re known for being the best.
Dime: As the defending champs, do you look at it like you’ve got everybody coming after you, or that you guys have to attack everybody else?
LO: It’s all kind of the same thing, really. You wanna remain hungry and stay in a good place as a competitor; at the same time, you wanna be confident but not cocky. You have to realize that you can lose. We have to stay hungry, because losing is the worst thing that can happen now. That’s a road we don’t wanna go down.
Dime: You knew on Tuesday that you’d be playing Oklahoma City. Did you start preparing for them right away?
LO: As a team, we have to take it game-by-game, possession-by-possession. After the last game of the regular season, then we’ll start putting our focus on the Thunder and what we need to do to beat them.
Dime: Some say whatever happened in the regular season doesn’t matter now. But how much do you take from what you saw from OKC during the season into this series?
LO: Of course it matters some. Usually, teams are creatures of habit, so what we wanna do is take away all their good habits and make their bad habits come out. In a sense, the regular season doesn’t matter because guys will be playing harder and a lot more physical in the playoffs, but every team builds certain habits in the regular season that you can study.
Dime: How important would it be to get Andrew Bynum back for the playoffs?
LO: It’s huge for us to have everybody back at full strength. Every player we have, that adds another dimension to our team. Andrew was having a great year before he got hurt, so having him back on the court is big.
Dime: On paper, the biggest difference with the Lakers is that last year you had Trevor Ariza, and now it’s Ron Artest at the three. How do you see that playing out in the postseason?
LO: I mean, by the time we were going for a championship, Trevor had time to learn this offense — which is a really intricate offense — but Ron has done a great job in one year under this system. Even though they do some of the same things defensively, they’re completely different players. I try not to compare them. Of course we miss Trevor; when you win a championship with somebody, especially with somebody that’s your friend, you’ll always have a connection. He’s always gonna be missed, but Ron has done a great job. I try not to compare them like that; we are who we are now.
Dime: Knowing that you’ve gone all the way and won the title before, how much does that help you the next time you get into a pressure situation in the playoffs?
LO: You always feel like you have the advantage. One team will win, one team will lose, so just like anything else in the world, experience helps. You walk in our locker room and you see Pau Gasol, you see Andrew Bynum, you see Kobe, you see Ron Artest … we have so many players that can play. It’s strictly a winning thing.
Dime: What did you do with the ’09 championship ring?
LO: I gave it to my son. He’s eight years old and crazy about basketball. It’s his championship ring. The next one, that’ll be for me. I’ll get it fitted for my pinky or something and probably wear that one every day. The first one was for him, though. The next one is for me.