Reporting from Orlando, Fla. — Kobe Bryant was late for Sunday's pregame activities, but Ron Artest arrived on time, with a new blond dye job and several inscriptions in his hair.
He etched the word "defense" in three languages — Japanese, Hebrew and Hindi, he said.
In plain English, however, his defense was poor Sunday against the Orlando Magic.
His assignment for most of the game, Vince Carter, had 25 points, including 10 points on free throws in the first quarter. The Magic beat the Lakers, 96-94.
Artest was rubbed out by high screens on some possessions but lacked the defensive flair he'd unveiled in recent weeks.
One play pretty much said it all: He went for a steal in the third quarter and didn't get it, leaving Carter open for an easy three-pointer.
"He had a struggle tonight," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "Couldn't make a shot and everything was a foul on Carter. Ron really didn't get a chance to play the defense he's touted to play."
Carter made 13 of 14 free throws and five of 10 shots.
Artest's defense wasn't the only thing off the mark. After scoring two points on one-for-nine shooting Friday against Charlotte, he had eight points on two-for-10 shooting against Orlando.
Jackson singled him out during a third-quarter timeout, telling him that missed three-pointers were understandable but not missed layups after Artest blew an easy one after driving past the Orlando defense. Jackson was also irritated when Artest stepped out of bounds on a baseline drive, also in the third quarter.
Artest didn't see any flaws in his game.
"I'm very happy with the way I played," he said. "I take the good with the bad. I played great. I'm very happy with how I played."
He also didn't sense any reason for the team to hyperventilate.
"Still hungry, still going to fight," he said. "We're like a wounded animal right now. That should be a good thing for us."
Orlando game-operations people tried to have fun with Artest's new look on the scoreboard, putting a photo of it next to Dennis Rodman with a multicolored dye job, accompanying both with a "Separated at Birth?" query.
Others also realized the similarities.
"The first time I kind of looked out there on the court, I thought he was Dennis Rodman — his shoulders and hairdo and whatnot," Jackson said.
The Lakers aren't always the same fluid team as last season, and their only change in the starting lineup was inserting one free-agent forward for another — Artest for Trevor Ariza, who is averaging 15.4 points for the Houston Rockets but shooting only 38.3%.
Artest is averaging 11.3 points and shooting a similarly low 41.5% for the Lakers.
"[Artest] coming here has kind of changed the DNA of the team a little bit," Bryant said. "Trevor was just more athletic and long and a spot-up three-point shooter. Ron is too, but Ron is more of a bruiser."
Are the Lakers better with Artest?
"The blueprint's a little different," Bryant said. "Last year, we were just a really, really efficient offensive machine. This year, it's a little more smash-mouth kind of basketball. Our defense is phenomenal. To win championships, defensive rebounding is what gets it done."