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BILL DWYRE

Mark Cuban has fun at Lakers' expense, then Mavericks do, too

The Dallas owner, who loves to needle the Lakers, questioned their acquisition of Artest. So he had to particularly enjoy Mavericks' 94-80 win at Staples Center, a game in which Artest contributed very little.

October 31, 2009|BILL DWYRE

Drat. There goes that 82-0 season.

It was Game 2 of 82 Friday night. A Lakers team whose last season seemed to end yesterday was back in full swing. The Dallas Mavericks were in town, as was their energetic and entertaining owner, Mark Cuban, who can be more fun than the game.

There are only a few things to look for in Lakerland this early in the season.

The Lakers won it all last June, have 11 players back from that team, and are expected to do it again this season. Like the baseball fans in New York with the Yankees, Los Angeles pro basketball fans -- except for the seven who root for the Clippers -- have a sort of entitlement feeling about their Lakers and league championships.

Staples Center was full, including the usual corps of A-list celebrities. Into this stargazing came the Mavericks, always competitive since Cuban bought them -- winners of 50 games last season and a playoff spot, and sent home in the playoffs by the improving Denver Nuggets.

So this was not an ideal spot to be in for the Mavericks, especially after starting badly against the Washington Wizards. They lost their opener at home, 102-91, to a team that never had a scent of the playoffs last season, winning 19 games.

That made the Mavericks either pushovers, or stealth bombers. The Lakers' Lamar Odom chose to see the latter.

"They know they gotta play," he said before the game. "They are coming in here to play the team that just got crowned."

His reference was to the ring ceremony before Tuesday night's opener, when the NBA gave the Lakers their championship jewelry and even an extra gift: the Clippers, minus Blake Griffin, in the opener.

So, Friday night, the Lakers watch began in earnest.

Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant. Legitimate superstar. A given. Nothing new there.

Pau Gasol, injured and not yet playing, will be back soon. A veteran. Knows how to play. Probably played too much in the off-season in Europe and got hurt because of it, but will figure out how to pace himself. That's what veterans do.

Derek Fisher, savvy point guard, back and the same.

Odom, married to a Kardashian famous for being famous, hasn't changed a bit. Still friendly, still goes to the boards hard and slashes left for big baskets.

Andrew Bynum? The big center, famous for being injured, doesn't seem to be at the moment. He seems more confident, more aggressive and a better fit, although the percentage of stone content in his hands seems to remain high. He is in the category of those for whom Coach Phil Jackson likes to say, "Don't let him hold the baby." But he just turned 22, so maturity and skin softeners may improve everything.

And then, there is the fifth force from last year's title team, Trevor Ariza.

Oops. He's gone, off to Houston, where he has averaged 18.5 points in the Rockets' first two games. So there is something to watch -- his replacement, Ron Artest.

Artest is, of course, a veteran -- of several things beyond basketball. And that's not to downplay his basketball skills, which are considerable.

Enter Cuban, who has spent more in fines to the NBA over the years than several AIG executives make in bonuses. Which, of course, is saying something. Cuban has this thing about free speech and his right to it. Something about our Constitution. The NBA doesn't always see it that way. The ongoing give-and-take is delightful, especially when Cuban ranges far afield.

He did so when the Lakers acquired Artest. Citing Artest's tendency to occasionally behave unlike an altar boy, Cuban speculated that he might hurt the Lakers by becoming a "distraction."

The needle thereby inserted, Cuban continued the fun Friday night, saying, among other things, that he had experience working in a Dairy Queen and if this Lakers thing didn't work out for Artest, he could find him work.

"I could teach him how to make those neat swirls," Cuban said.

Cuban got his Dairy Queen experience back in January 2002, when the NBA fined him heavily for commenting that some NBA refs couldn't manage a Dairy Queen. After getting word that Dairy Queen was taken aback by his statement, he worked for a day at one, and more than 1,000 people lined up to be served by Mark Cuban.

Artest gathered his non-altar boy image by, among other things, breaking a TV monitor in anger after a game, asking the Indiana Pacers to give him time off during the season to promote his rap album, and going into the stands in Auburn Hills, Mich., for a ruckus with fans.

Nevertheless, the season is long and there is ample time for image rebuilding.

So let's review Friday night's Ron Artest effort: Fourth foul at 9:52 of third period. Followed by a technical for wrongly chatting with the official. Fifth foul at 10:04 of the fourth period. One for six from the field, three points.

Final score, Mavericks 94, Lakers 80.

Smiling, perhaps licking on a Dairy Queen swirl near the Dallas bench: Mark Cuban.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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