When Lamar Odom awoke on Saturday morning, he believed he was headed to Frisco, Texas to play a rehab game for the Mavericks' D-League affiliate the Texas Legends.
But then the call came from Dallas. The Mavs, in the midst of a tough stretch of nine games in 12 days, needed LO in Dallas for their game against the Jazz on Saturday night. So Lamar returned to the Mavs and gave them just what they needed to stop a four-game slide.
Lamar returned to the Mavs after a four-game absence and gave them the boost needed to end a four-game slide (Getty Images).
No. 7 came off the bench to give the Mavs a solid 18 minutes, posting nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks as the Mavs defeated the Jazz 102-96 at American Airlines Center.
"It was great for him just to be out there and be part of us and playing with energy and flow out there and letting it come to him," teammate Shawn Marion said. "It was great to see him out there, that's all that matters. If you go out there and play hard, good things happen."
Lamar had missed the Mavericks' previous four games to deal with a personal matter. It was a team excused absence that began the day before the All-Star break.
When he was set to return, Lamar suggested he take a one-game rehab assignment with the Dallas D-League affiliate to get his legs back. He was set to play for the Legends against the Austin Toros on Saturday, but the Mavs' need took precedence.
"It was really personal and it was something I had to tend to," Lamar said of his absence. "Mark Cuban is a great owner for understanding. Sometimes we have to fix whatever's going on off the court in order for us to fix what's going on on the court."
Prior to the game, LO said he spoke to the team about his absence and what he was hoping to get out of his return. Knowing that his teammates stand behind him both on and off the court has eased some of the worry for LO, who called himself "lucky" to have such a great support group.
"I'm fortunate to have a group of guys like this," said LO in praise of his teammates' support. "I just told them to stick with me. At this point of time in my life, I need them."
Mavs guard Jason Terry told reporters of the team's response to Lamar's words for them prior to the game.
"That address was, 'Guys, I need you as much as you need me.' That almost put me to tears. We all looked at him and gave him a big hug," Terry told FOX Sports. "He said sorry and said let's go. Then his play tonight spoke louder than those words."
Terry, who has been through some in-season struggles of his own — his aunt tragically passed away in the weeks leading up to last year's — knows what it's like to have to fight off the outside issues that plague your time on the court.
"The thing is," Terry said, "unless you walk in his shoes, it's better not to judge. My choice is to be there for him."
THIRD QUARTER SPARK
The Mavs needed Lamar too.
After winning 7-of-8 prior to his departure, Dallas lost all four without him.
Saturday marked the first game action for LO since Feb. 20 and at the start, as could be expected, there was a little rust. Lamar played just under six minutes in the first quarter, scoring on his only shot attempt and adding a single rebound.
He stayed on for the first two minutes of the second and missed his only shot. Still, behind 20 first half points from Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas took a 43-36 lead into halftime.
Dallas extended that lead to double digits early in the third and held a 10-point edge when No. 7 entered to give Nowitzki a breather halfway through the third. It was at that point that LO found his groove.
He hit the glass on the defensive end, grabbing a pair of rebounds within his first 90 seconds in the game. Sandwiched in between was a dime to Shawn Marion for a bucket that put Dallas up 11.
With three minutes remaining in the third he put together an even more impressive back-to-back sequence. First he drove to the cup and hit a runner to put the Mavericks ahead by 14. Then, after Utah's CJ Miles trimmed the edge down to 11 with a trey, Lamar answered with one of his own to push it back to 14.
After another Jazz miss, Lamar hit Terry for a triple to make it a 17-point game. On the other end he stuffed Utah's Alec Burks, grabbed the rebound and pushed it ahead. Terry finished with a jumper to make it 74-55 Mavs and force a timeout from the Jazz.
"The presence of Lamar Odom is huge," Terry said after the game. "He gives our bench an experienced bench and we really need his presence. His energy tonight was great from the start, and that was the key to the victory tonight."
LO grabbed one more rebound in the final minute of the third and opened the fourth with two swats in the first two minutes. He took a brief breather with 9:06 to go, but Utah followed with a quick 8-3 spurt and coach Rick Carlisle called Lamar back in with 6:47 remaining.
"I don't think there were one minute or a stretch of 25 seconds tonight where anybody in the crowd could have said he wasn't into the game," Carlisle said. "He was into it."
Lamar responded to his re-entry by drawing a shooting foul and sinking both of his free throws to stop the run. 30 seconds later he was back out again and watched for the final six minutes as the Mavs closed out a win. According to Carlisle, it's no coincidence that the return of Lamar snapped the team's skid.
"It's just clear we need this from him every night," Carlisle said in praise of his big man. "If he can bring that kind of energy and engagement, it's going to lift our team to a different level. He's capable, and I believe he can do it."
He brought fresh energy to a Mavericks' bench that has been depleted by injury and fatigued from tough stretches. In an enthusiastic showing off the bench, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year looked true to form. He established a dominant presence under the basket and had a hand on every ball that came his way throughout the game.
"He played well," Carlisle continued on in assessment of LO's performance. "It wasn't just that he made shots and stuff like that. He had a real presence in the game. He had one or two blocked shots. He was a presence around the basket, rebounding and deflecting the ball. He played the game with some real authority tonight that we haven't seen. I told him after the game, and the team, he's got to keep bringing this and we've got to stay on him to do that because it'll be able to take our team to a different level."
Nowitzki, who was responsible for more than a third of the team's offense with 40 points on the night, echoed Carlisle's statement about the importance of LO.
"We're happy to see LO back because we're a different team when he's playing. He was great tonight and he handles the whole situation very well," Nowitzki said.
After a rough couple of weeks, the Mavericks hope that LO's time away from the team has helped him sort out the personal issues that weighed heavy on his mind. The team plays 17 games in a tough March stretch and will need everything they can get from No. 7 to survive it.
Lamar recognizes that at times this season his focus hasn't been where it needs to me. But he said Saturday night, after his big third helped push the Mavericks to a much-needed win, that he's feeling better now than he did when he left, that everything is in order and he's ready to give it his all night-to-night. He just hopes everyone understands how tough finding that peace can sometimes be. Whether a Mavericks fan or not, struggle is universal.
On Saturday night, LO's parting words, true in a world much greater than basketball, lingered in the locker room long after the Mavericks had filed out.
"No matter how many points I score, or how big I look on TV, we're all people. And some things beat us down. And sometimes we've got to take a step away from them just to overcome them," he said. "I've had some things that bothered me and was easily distracted. So, it was easy for me to lose my focus. Again, sometimes we need everything in order in order to give ourselves 100 percent. You can ask anybody, ask any mechanic who might be going through a divorce, ask any lawyer who might have lost a loved one, I mean we all go through it, it's a part of life. You can either understand or you can judge. You pick."
LO and the Mavericks are right back at it tonight, beginning a stretch of five games in six nights, including a back-to-back-to-back stretch from Thursday to Saturday nights.
"Right now, we'll find out really what we're made of," Carlisle said. "And this is one of those times we've got to stick together and we've got to fight."
The stretch begins in Oklahoma City where the Mavs take on the west leading Thunder. Catch tonight's tipoff at 7 p.m. CT, locally on Fox Sports Southwest or nationally on NBA TV.