- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- After trudging off the Los Angeles Lakers' practice court Saturday as the last player to get up extra shots in the impromptu practice following four games in five nights, Jodie Meeks dutifully stuck around to answer a couple of questions about his reeling team.
When Meeks was asked if the Lakers could glean anything from their 107-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the All-Star break that they could apply to Sunday's matchup, Meeks made it clear that circumstances had changed.
You see, Meeks sat out that previous meeting because of a sprained ankle.
It was a confident statement from the fifth-year guard. He was saying that his presence would make a difference.
And boy did he back it up.
After the Lakers fell down by as many as 18 points in the first half, Meeks scored 20 of his career-high 42 points to help the Lakers storm back for the 114-110 victory over the Western Conference-leading Thunder.
"It's one of those games, man," Meeks said after going 11-for-18 from the field, including 6-for-11 on 3-pointers. "It's was fun out there. The most important thing is I was glad we got the win."
As encouraging as the offense was, it was Meeks' defense that provided the ultimate lift. With the Thunder trailing by 110-107 with 33.7 seconds left, it was Meeks who defended Russell Westbrook at the top of the key as the Thunder's All-Star launched an airball as he tried to tie the game.
"I think defensively he was out of sight and on Westbroook the whole time," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "So that's a lot of energy that he put out to win that game. But you know what? He's been doing that on a pretty consistent basis all year."
While Westbrook wanted no part in crediting Meeks ("There's nothing for me to talk about," Westbrook said when asked about Meeks' performance), Meeks heaped praise on Westbrook even though he had eight turnovers and shot 2-for-10 from 3.
"He's a tough cover," Meeks said. "He's a great player."
Meeks also had four steals, twice sniffing out a lazy pass by the Thunder and turning it into a breakaway opportunity that left Oklahoma City no choice but to foul him, leading to two clear-path violations.
"Every game I try to watch film on the opponent and try to see some of the passes they make," Meeks said. "Sometimes I'll get burned on backdoors, but a lot of the time I'm successful on steals."
Meeks went 4-for-4 on free throws stemming from the clear path fouls and 14-for-14 for the game, using the freebies to keep his shooting rhythm for his 37 minutes.
Coincidentally when Meeks scored his collegiate career-high of 54 points for the University of Kentucky, he also went 14-for-14 on free throws.
"That's really all it takes when you're in a rhythm like that," Meeks said.
Meeks' career day capped what was perhaps the Lakers' most topsy-turvy week of an up-and-down season -- three atrocious losses to New Orleans, the Clippers and Denver when the team gave up an average of 136 points book-ended by as-solid-as-they-come wins at Portland and against Oklahoma City.
Go figure that the Lakers' "most consistent performer all year," according to D'Antoni, was the one who got the Lakers back on track.
"I really can't explain it," Meeks said of the bizarre week. "Sometimes it happens like that in basketball, but the most important thing is we keep going out there, fighting and not giving up. Because we could have easily given up, especially with some of the games that we've lost. But we haven't and guys on this team are very resilient."
Pau Gasol appreciates Meeks' contributions, even if the season isn't what he envisioned.
"No matter what he's going to compete hard and give it everything he's got," Gasol said. "So, he's always up for the challenge and he's always aggressive."
Meeks, 26, a former second-round pick, is averaging career highs in points (15.3), rebounds (2.6) and assists (1.6) this season. He will become a free agent this summer when his relatively cheap $1.5 million contract expires but has already repeatedly said he wants to re-sign with L.A.
"He's upped his game, which is really fun to watch somebody get better and he's got better in a lot of phases in a game," D'Antoni said of Meeks, who has nearly doubled his 7.9 points per game average from last season. "I mean the guy, he's playing."
And just playing -- even if it is for the struggling Lakers who are still 20 games under .500 with Sunday's win -- is enough for Meeks.
"I just try to tell myself it's a fun game," Meeks said. "And it is. Any time you get a chance to play, it's a privilege. I try to trickle that down to everybody on the team. Maybe the season isn't going the way that we planned, but we still have 18 games left. Play them hard and let's see what happens."
At the very least, Meeks will be playing hard.
2dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne