HOUSTON — Leave it to Ron Artest to offer up a theory on why the Lakers became tough guys in Wednesday's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
"I think last year they got punked by the Celtics and they don't want that to happen again," Artest said after the Rockets' practice Thursday, referring to how the Lakers were beaten by Boston in the 2008 NBA Finals. "That was the word on the street, that they got punked by the Celtics, so this year they came out tough. I kind of respect them elbows."
One elbow was thrown by Derek Fisher, who was suspended by the NBA for tonight's Game 3 for striking Houston's Luis Scola late in the third quarter of Game 2.
"It was a malicious play," Houston Coach Rick Adelman said.
Another elbow was thrown by Kobe Bryant to the chest of Artest while battling for a rebound.
Artest was called for a foul on the play for going over Bryant's back. Artest then went after Bryant before he was ejected from the game.
Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations, on Thursday upgraded Bryant's act to a flagrant foul 1, the lesser of the two flagrant penalties.
Artest said Bryant's play should have been an automatic suspension.
Artest heard from the league office too, but got a pass on his actions in Game 2.
"If that was me throwing an elbow at Kobe, first of all I would have hurt Kobe way more than he hurt me," Artest said. "I probably would have knocked him out with the same force that he used against me. That's why I'm not going to throw an elbow at somebody's head. Secondly, it's dangerous. I see that shows me that if Kobe hits me with an elbow, I can just get hit. That shows what type of person Stu Jackson is."
Artest wasn't quite ready to call the Lakers a dirty team.
"I thought they were playing hard. They made a couple of mistakes, I guess," he said. "Fisher made a mistake and Kobe made a mistake. That's what you want. If it was us and the Houston fans, they'd be like, 'Wow, we're playing aggressive.' Now that it's the Lakers, Lakers fans are like, 'Wow, our team is playing hard.' "
The Rockets, who are tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven series with Games 3 and 4 at home, have seen Bryant's antics before. In Game 1, Bryant kneed Shane Battier in the head.
Bryant has done some trash talking to Battier, saying "he can't guard me" after making yet another jump shot.
Battier was asked how he maintains his composure.
"I really don't care what he thinks," Battier said Thursday.
The Rockets, who were swept by the Lakers in the regular season-series, view L.A. as an arrogant team.
"I don't think they have a lot of respect for us to begin with, to be honest," Battier said.
"I don't think they have respect for a lot of teams," Battier responded. "We're one in that group . . . I think that there was a feeling that we were going to be an easy series, maybe a sweep and we were going to be a skid mark on the Lakers' victory parade. Game 1 showed them, 'Hey, we're not a bad team and we actually can do some things and maybe win a few games in this series.' "