Lamar Odom making strides, rewarding Clippers faith in him

Lamar Odom’s statistics were modest again Saturday for the Clippers. He scored a season-high eight points on 4-for-8 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and added three assists in 20 minutes, 36 seconds during a 117-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

To be sure, the versatile 6-foot-10 forward has had better and more productive games during his career. But not this season, not after he arrived at training camp out of shape, not after he sat out almost three weeks in October because of sore knees.

Slowly but certainly, Odom has worked himself into shape and rewarded the Clippers’ faith in him and his potential. He’s shed 12 pounds and recently displayed a vague resemblance to the player who was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year while with the Lakers in 2010-11.

Odom has plenty of work still to do, including dropping additional pounds, before he can claim to be as fit as he should be at this point in the season. When he does, when he gets in better shape, the Clippers hope he’ll be as productive as he can be for them.

“It takes time,” Odom said. “I had so much time off. Sometimes, as an athlete, you slow down. It’s important for me to keep after it in practice, get extra work in so I’m comfortable on the court, comfortable on defense and making moves and coming out of them. It just takes time.”

After a season in which his mind and body seemed to be elsewhere after the Lakers traded him to the Dallas Mavericks, Odom insisted from Day 1 of training camp with the Clippers that his head was in the right place. He vowed to return to the form that made him the league’s best bench player.

“My body is starting and my mind are starting to attach, so that feels good,” he said. “My body and my mind, they have to be together. My body is starting to catch up to my head.”

Others have noticed his physical improvement.

“He wants it and I believe in him,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I’m going to keep pushing him. I’m going to keep making him work and he’s going to keep doing work. His teammates support him because we know that he gives us an element we need.”

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Lamar Odom getting his groove back for the Clippers

Lamar Odom didn’t come to training camp in very good shape last season with the Dallas Mavericks after they acquired him from the Lakers. He wasn’t in great shape this season after the Clippers got him from the Mavericks in a June 29 trade.

The difference this time is he’s found a comfort zone that includes considerable support from Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. Slowly but certainly, he’s become a useful member of the team’s second unit, recording a season-high seven points in Monday’s win over Utah.

“I just want Lamar to stay the course right now,” Del Negro said Tuesday, the day before Odom faced the Mavs for the first time since the deal. “He’s in here early working out. He’s in here late working out. You can see his timing coming back a little bit. You can see his lift coming back just a little bit. … He’s here every day. He’s grinding it out.

“He knows he has a ways to go, but you can tell when he’s out there he makes a difference for us and it’s only going to get better if stay with the process. I think he’s very comfortable where he’s at. He’s not very comfortable with his game and that’s why he’s out there. We have a lot of faith in him and I think it’s going to pay dividends down the road.”

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Lamar Odom gets backing of Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro

Lamar Odom, a reserve forward, has played sick this season. And not in a good way. Actually, he was under the weather for Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Hornets, but played his customary minutes.

Odom also received a vote of confidence from Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who said before the game: “I’m just trying to keep him engaged. He knows he needs to play better. He’s lost some weight. He needs to lose more. I’m going to stick with him because in the long run he can give us something we need.”

Odom skipped the morning shootaround because of an upset stomach, but joined the rotation for Monday’s game. He went into the game averaging 1.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 12.3 minutes, microscopic numbers for a player who was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year while with the Lakers in 2010-11.

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Chauncey Billups conflicted about return from Achilles injury

Chauncey Billups told a newspaper reporter Wednesday there was no timetable for his return to the active roster after suffering a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury last February. Then he said during an ESPN interview he’d be back in a month.

So, which is it?

Billups hedged.

“I said both of them,” the veteran guard admitted before the Clippers faced the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. “So, you can write both of them.”

Officially, the Clippers have no target date set for Billups’ season debut.

Unofficially, Billups can’t say when he’ll play because he can’t say.

When he’s sound enough to play, he’ll play.

“That’s the beast about it,” Billups said after a pregame workout.

There’s little doubt the Clippers missed Billups’ steady influence during an up-and-down start to the season that featured an average of 18.8 turnovers going into Wednesday, far too many to suit coach Vinny Del Negro.

“The basketball is valuable and you have to control it,” Del Negro said.

Then he included Billups’ absence as one of the reasons for the Clippers’ sloppy play during victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers and losses to the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers to start 2012-13.

Del Negro asked the remarkably athletic Clippers to play at a faster pace this season, but they’ve been too frenetic at times during their first four games. He also would like them to be more disciplined and make better decisions with the ball.

Willie Green started in place of Billups at shooting guard Wednesday for the fifth consecutive game. Billups is expected to slide into Green’s spot when he’s ready to play, with Green moving to a reserve role.

When that is, is anyone’s guess, however.

“It’s coming,” Billups said of his slow but steady rehabilitation and recovery.

Asked about Billups’ conflicting pregame statements, Del Negro shrugged and said, “There’s no timetable, but it could be earlier.”

–Vote of confidence for Odom

Lamar Odom, a versatile backup forward, played only four minutes during the Clippers’ lackluster loss Monday to the Cavaliers and scored two points on 1-for-2 shooting with two turnovers. He had zero rebounds or assists.

Odom was sidelined for the better part of three weeks during training camp because of sore knees, but Del Negro said he’s healthy now and that wasn’t the reason for such limited minutes in Monday’s game.

“He has to get in better condition and he has to learn what we’re doing out there,” Del Negro said. “He knows that. We’ve got to get him in a good rhythm out there. I have confidence in him and his teammates have confidence in him, and he knows that.”

Odom went into Wednesday averaging 2.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 12.3 minutes. He hadn’t played more than 20 minutes and hadn’t scored more than five points in a game in his first four contests.

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