T.J. SIMERS

Turnaround is wishful thinking for Lakers

With a six-game losing streak, the season begins now, an optimistic Mike D'Antoni says. And even though the Clippers lost, Lamar Odom is beginning to listen.

Shaq was wearing a Dodgers sweatshirt at the Clippers game, enough blue cloth there to double as a Dodger Stadium infield tarp, and he was shaking hands with Manager Don Mattingly.

"That's a billboard on him," said Mattingly, who apparently didn't want anyone to know where he worked.

A Clippers PR guy advised Mattingly not to get too close to Shaq in a picture that was being taken, lest he come off looking like a bobblehead doll by way of comparison.

So much for the highlight of Saturday's Clippers game in Staples Center, although I did have the chance to chat with one of my favorite athletes, Lamar Odom.

But first, encouraging news about the Lakers, and something that should make fans a little more forgiving when it comes to their poor team.

Long after most folks had gone complaining into the night after the Lakers' loss to Oklahoma City, Coach Mike D'Antoni told the media Friday night the Lakers have been at a serious disadvantage.

Apparently unlike every other team in the NBA, the Lakers' season doesn't begin until Sunday, D'Antoni said.

"I told the team the biggest thing is our season starts Sunday," he said. No word on whether he told the team it's time to start playing defense as well.

D'Antoni also unveiled his strategy for getting the Lakers into the playoffs: wishful thinking.

"I'm an optimist," he said in explaining why he thinks the Lakers can suddenly turn things around now after six straight losses. "I think it can happen. We can play well enough to win. Yes."

I'm reminded of the fact that D'Antoni has already said that when he talks to the media, he lies.

But wishful thinking is good, like I'm going to start a diet tomorrow and stick to it. I believe that. And will believe so the next day as well when I really start.

"We've got to make a run," D'Antoni said. And we all know what happened to Mike Brown when his Lakers didn't.

"We've got one shot at it, and everybody needs to get ready mentally and physically and flush this down the toilet."

What a great giveaway that would be, maybe every Lakers fan in attendance getting a miniature potty to flush.

Beginning Sunday, as opposed to every other game played so far, D'Antoni said, "We've got to be ready.

"From here on we can't make any more false steps. That's just how it is. We put ourselves in this ditch, and we're the only ones that can get out, and hopefully we can get some guys back and start our season Sunday."

Asked if that made Sunday against Cleveland a must win, maybe the earliest must win in NBA history, D'Antoni said, "It probably is. We won't be mathematically out of it on Tuesday if we don't do it Sunday, but it's got to turn around somewhere and that's where we're going to make our stand."

Maybe that's even a better giveaway, Lakers T-shirts that read: "D'Antoni's Last Stand."

But then as Odom will tell you, everyone deserves another chance or chances.

As long gone as Odom's career appeared to be a year ago, he's now being counted on by the Clippers with the game on the line.

And he's one of several reasons why folks think the Clippers are legitimate championship contenders.

He's lost 20-some pounds, with the Clippers showing tremendous patience in allowing him to work himself in shape.

"Now it's time to pay them back," he said.

He's already a force as a rebounder and defender off the bench, and his basketball IQ unmatched by most.

For as long as I have known him I have urged him to shoot more, and always full of surprises, he's starting to become an offensive threat.

"My body is starting to allow what I really want to do out there," Odom said. "We have a great team, a lot of weapons and a lot of experience in here winning."

They also have players who know what it's like to blow a game as the Clippers did Saturday in losing to Orlando, 104-101.

"It's a shame; 82 and 0 was our goal, but we fell a little bit short," Odom said with a grin. "We don't like losing and this one got away from us, but championship teams make it one and done when losing and then start winning again."

Besides being such a joy to be around, he does so many little things on the court that go unmentioned in a box score. And even more in the locker room where he has almost captain-like status because he keeps everyone so loose.

"I'm a stronger person, but that's what adversity does to you," Odom said of his disastrous stint with Dallas. "It's going to test you, look you in the face and then it's up to you — what are you going to do?

"I was blessed to come back to a situation where I knew people. And I love this team. It's a good one, and it's capable of doing special things."

Odom knows special, playing for the Lakers when they were a good team, as farfetched as that might seem these days.

But then the Lakers' season is just beginning, wishful thinking now making anything possible.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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