Lakers guard Derek Fisher is suspended for tonight's game, which opens a fairly large portal for either Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown.
Make that a fairly small portal.
The reserve guard who ends up starting tonight in Game 3 gets to chase undersized fireball Aaron Brooks around the court as the Lakers and Houston jockey for a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Coach Phil Jackson declined to say which backup would take Fisher's place, but Farmar has a history of playing against Brooks that dates to their days in the Pacific 10 Conference.
A backcourt lineup change became a necessity after NBA disciplinarian Stu Jackson suspended Fisher without pay for tonight's game because Fisher struck Luis Scola in the third quarter of Game 2 as Scola moved to set a screen on Fisher near the top of the key.
Fisher swung his elbow at Scola, but the league said inappropriate contact was made with Fisher's "head and shoulder," costing him $42,727 in salary and the Lakers their starting ball-handling guard.
"I think all the guys on the team are prepared to do whatever it is they need to do," Fisher said Thursday. "I'm personally extremely confident in Jordan and Shannon to hold down our lead guard position and make the plays necessary to win a game."
Fisher wasn't the only Lakers player reprimanded by the NBA after the Lakers' 111-98 victory Wednesday.
Kobe Bryant was assessed a flagrant foul "penalty one" but will not be suspended for elbowing Ron Artest in what the league called the "chest area" as the players moved in for a rebound with 6:57 to play. Stu Jackson said the play would have been reviewed "on a different level," perhaps with an eye toward suspension, if the blow had landed on Artest's head.
Artest, for his part, will not be suspended for running across the court and jawing at Bryant from a close distance, telling him, "You're hitting the wrong person. Don't you know you're hitting Ron Artest?" according to Artest.
After the two were separated, Artest pointed at Bryant and then pointed at his own throat, indicating where he thought Bryant's elbow landed. Artest, like Fisher, was kicked out of Wednesday's game.
Bryant did not speak to reporters Thursday, but Phil Jackson and Artest did. Jackson, predictably, defended his top player while Artest, unpredictably, took a subtle shot at the Lakers.
"I think last year they got punked by the Celtics and they don't want that to happen again," Artest said.
Phil Jackson suggested that Artest was guilty of being too physical on the play in question.
"The guy puts an elbow in the back of my neck and starts driving into the basket, and I can't box him out because he outweighs me by 30 pounds, I'm going to use whatever means I have," Jackson said. "Maybe not the most ultimate dirty weapons, but you're going to try and protect your basket. He's got his forearm in the back of Kobe's neck and he's driving into the basket."
Meanwhile, if extra work is any indication of who will start in Fisher's place, Farmar stuck around after Thursday's practice for 20 minutes to work on his outside shot.
"I've been trying to stay as mentally strong as possible and ready as possible out here," Farmar said.
Before his reappearance in Game 2, Farmar had played a total of 11 minutes in the Lakers' previous three playoff games.
He played almost 18 minutes in Game 2, while Brown played 14, the first time in the playoffs that Farmar logged more minutes than Brown.
Farmar actually has playoff experience as a starter, getting the nod as a rookie over Smush Parker in all five games of the first round against Phoenix in 2007.
Brown has played in all seven playoff games this season and averaged 6.4 points in 16.1 minutes, but a start in tonight's game would easily be the biggest of his career. It might be too big in Jackson's estimation.
Plus, there's Farmar's familiarity with Brooks, who is averaging 15.5 points and 3.8 assists in the playoffs.
"We've played against each other for a while now," said Farmar, who was at UCLA when Brooks was at Oregon. "He's doing a great job. . . . He's running the show. You've just got to make it tough on him. He's really quick."
For the record, Jackson didn't like the NBA's verdict on Fisher. "It's all arbitrary," he said. "There's nothing that can be measured correctly. . . . You don't know what they're going to come up with there." . . . Lamar Odom wasn't very accurate in Game 2 (seven points on two-for-seven shooting), but expect him to be in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future instead of Andrew Bynum. "Obviously, it gives us much more speed and agility out there on the floor," Jackson said. "It is a matchup that kind of favored us."
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.