NBA: Lakers’ Ron Artest sees pieces fall together in matchup with Paul Pierce
By Broderick Turner
Los Angeles Times
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — This is why Ron Artest joined the Lakers last summer — to play for an NBA championship.
It's why the Lakers signed Artest to a five-year, $33.9-million contract — to put his physical defensive prowess up against small forwards such as Boston's Paul Pierce.
It's all in place now, for Artest and the Lakers, as L.A. prepares to play host to Boston in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at Staples Center.
"It's not like (there's) no extra excitement," Artest said after practice Tuesday.
Artest, an 11-year veteran, is playing in his first NBA Finals. "I've been excited since I was like 8 years old," he said. "It's not more I need."
It was partly because of small forwards such as Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Cleveland's LeBron James and Pierce, that the Lakers signed Artest.
Maybe Artest will get excited to play against Pierce, who tore the Lakers apart in the 2008 NBA Finals on his way to being named most valuable player?
"He's (Pierce) in the championship," Artest said. "Those other small forwards are not. He's been there a couple of years already. He's been in big games and he's hit a lot of big shots."
Pierce is averaging 19.1 points on 43.7 percent shooting, including 39 percent from three-point range, in the playoffs. He averaged 18.3 points on 47.2 percent shooting, 41.4 percent from three-point range, during the regular season.
But in the two regular-season games against the Lakers, Pierce averaged just 16 points.
At 6-7, 260 pounds, Artest has the size and strength to match up with the 6-7, 235-pound Pierce.
"Pierce is obviously going to be on-ball," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "And so, that's going to create more Ron on-ball (defense) type of activity against an offensive player. So there will be more focus there."
Kobe Bryant paused when asked about Artest and possible distractions in the Finals.
"He might get distracted by other stuff," Bryant said. "But he doesn't get distracted about the game — at all. He locks in very well."
Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who had his right knee drained Monday, didn't practice Tuesday. Bynum said his knee "feels about the same," but that his right hamstring felt better because of the procedure.
Bynum is expected to practice Wednesday and play in Game 1 on Thursday night.
"We're concerned," Jackson said, "but we're not troubled by it."
Jackson, in the last year of his contract that pays him $12 million, was asked whether it would be a failure for him if the Lakers don't win the NBA championship.
"We wanted to get back here to defend our title," Jackson said. "Failure or not, depends on how we play."
Every night when he's at home, Lamar Odom has entered his weight room for a session to strengthen his muscles.
He has been playing in the playoffs with a sprained right knee that he wears a sleeve on for protection and still has a sore left shoulder.
"If something is going to hurt, then I need something else to be hard and tight so I can protect it," Odom said.