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Last time the Lakers were in Houston, there was a certain sense of calm and confidence percolating through the pregame locker room air.
Lamar Odom was digging through a slew of candy bags; Trevor Ariza was messing around with Derek Fisher; Shannon Brown and Josh Powell were chatting about music … And so on.
The team’s mood subsequent to Thursday’s shootaround on this trip to Texas was decidedly different.
There were no smiles, no jokes, no candy and little engagement in interviews with Kobe Bryant (all business), Phil Jackson (quite brief) and even the ever-gregarious Lamar Odom, who kept his commentary on questions to a minimum.
Odom did reveal a few things: A) He’ll come off the bench and Andrew Bynum will start; B) His back is still stiff, but has improved slightly and won’t keep him from helping his teammates.
On the surface, it would seem that L.A. remembers all to well what happened in its 99-87 loss to the Rockets the last time they set foot on Houston’s floor, but as Odom admitted, talk is cheap.
L.A.’s going to have to prove that its more focused pregame mood will translate into effort on the court. Sure, it’d be nice to pound the ball inside to Bynum and Pau Gasol, get Bryant good looks out of the triangle, limit Houston’s three-point shooting with solid help rotations and continue to clog up the defensive paint, but assistant coach Jim Cleamons said there was only one thing upon which the Lakers need to focus: effort.
It’s the most simple point that could be made about L.A., but also the most accurate: Just look at the team’s past 92 games and see how the Lakers did when they brought the pain (er, energy).