The Los Angeles Clippers have 12 games remaining on their regular season schedule. In that time, they will be in the running for a seed as high as second and as low as fifth.
Regardless of where they end up, the Clippers' postseason success rests on Lamar Odom's shoulders.
The Clippers are currently 48-22 overall, 28-8 at home and 20-14 on the road. They're 27-14 against the Western Conference and coming off of a postseason in which they made it to the Western Conference semifinals.
Unfortunately, the Clippers were swept out of the playoffs once they reached that plateau.
While there's no denying how much better a team the Clippers are in 2012-13, there's one truth that hasn't changed—they need a veteran big that they can rely on.
That's what Odom can be, as he's proven to be one of the most decorated players in the NBA. Perhaps most important of all, Odom is accomplished with experience in the postseason.
The key to it all.
When it comes to winning an NBA championship, it's imperative that a team has experienced presences on the floor and in the locker room. Regardless of how talented others on the Los Angeles Clippers may be, few have experienced postseason success.
Lamar Odom, meanwhile, is a two-time NBA champion.
Not only has Odom won two titles, but he was a key component of each of those teams. From 2008 to 2010, Odom helped the Lakers make three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and won two rings.
In that time, Odom tallied postseason averages of 12.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 blocks.
To be clear, Odom does not have to post those exact numbers for the Clippers to contend for a title. What L.A. needs from the 13-year veteran, however, is balanced contributions on both ends.
Between he and Chauncey Billups, the Clippers will consistently look to the former champions for postseason guidance—whether or not Odom steps up will decide their fate.
Crashing the Glass
If there is one area of weakness that is most likely to be exploited once the Los Angeles Clippers hit the postseason, it's their rebounding. They rank 19th in total rebounding, 19th in defensive rebounding and 15th on the offensive glass.
In order for the Clippers to improve in that capacity, Lamar Odom must step up as an interior presence.
During his postseason career, Odom is averaging 9.1 rebounds per game. That includes 2.5 offensive rebounds, which is a clear indication of his ability to create second-chance scoring opportunities.
Thus far in 2012-13, Odom is posting per-40 averages of 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 offensive boards. The total per-40 mark of 11.3 is the second-highest number of his career.
In other words, the complaints about his lost abilities has not yet been applied to his ability to crash the glass.
Although he's struggling in most other areas, Odom can make a contribution in the rebounding category. With his length down low, he and Blake Griffin can control the glass during a seven-game postseason series.
If they don't, L.A.'s chances of advancement diminish significantly.
Fourth-Quarter Benching of DeAndre Jordan
It's no secret that head coach Vinny Del Negro has been hesitant to use DeAndre Jordan during the fourth quarter of games. Despite possessing elite physical gifts and a rapidly developing low-post game, Jordan often finds himself on the bench.
As for why, there's just one number worth noting—Jordan is shooting 39.6 percent from the free-throw line.
This leaves the Clippers without an elite interior defender, as Jordan averaged 7.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 24.3 minutes. More importantly, Jordan alters most shots that come his way and force teams into jump shots.
It's up to Lamar Odom to fill that void.
Odom isn't shooting much better, as he's hitting a career-worst 45.7 percent from the charity stripe. With that being said, Odom is a career 69.3-percent free-throw shooter—a 23.6-percentile difference.
The question is simple: Can Odom step up as a defender and late-game free throw shooter? If so, the Clippers can make noise in the playoffs.
If not, it will be an unfortunately early exit for L.A.