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Lakers' Ron Artest shoots from the hip and guns down Suns

Forward starts fast and finishes with 25 points in helping L.A. advance to NBA Finals.

May 29, 2010|T.J. Simers

He's not a smart player, which makes it so interesting to watch Ron Artest and a heady Phil Jackson coexist.

You had to see that last year when Houston made a run at the Lakers in the playoffs, Ron Artest the guy sabotaging the Rockets' gutsy, feisty play with ill-advised shot after ill-advised shot.

Much of that is forgotten, of course, when he's doing what he does best, and that's playing defense against someone known best for their offense. He can be very, very good.

When assigned the task of stopping someone who isn't all that good, he often seems uninterested, even disappearing at times until standing alone in the corner with nothing to do but throw up a three-pointer.

When he makes one, folks now laugh, because it seems so unlikely the ball is going to go in — 19 for 78 entering Game 6 without Oklahoma City, Utah or Phoenix bothering to even defend him.

So imagine how the Suns feel right now, Artest putting on the kind of show a basketball artist like Kobe Bryant might put on, threes from here and there, followed by a steal, basket and then later a left-handed, underhanded layup.

There's no way the Suns saw Artest coming — much like the end of Game 5.

The Suns thought they would win here Saturday night, and then anything might happen in Game 7, forgetting for a moment that anything might happen in Game 6, including Artest going off.

Before the game Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry was asked about Artest's assertion that Gentry doesn't respect him because the Suns are leaving him open to shoot.

"Do you think Ron knows who I am?" Gentry said.

"Listen, it has nothing to do with disrespecting Ron," Gentry added. "It has a ton to do with respecting Kobe, and the bottom line is that if you have an opportunity to have Kobe shoot or Ron, you're gonna have Ron shoot."

And while the Suns were willing to let Artest shoot, the other night, as TNT documented in reading Jackson's lips, he was telling his team not to pass the ball to Artest with the game on the line to keep him from shooting.

But that's the engaging thing about Artest — he might not be the smartest player, but he so much wants to be loved, to please his coach and teammates, so his effort is almost never questioned.

He's all about effort, and trying to do the right thing, the right thing as he sees it, scoring, because he believes he's a scorer. For someone considered a troublemaker much of his career, he's actually come across as a loveable Laker, willing to do whatever he can to be a part of championship effort — except stop shooting.

He's going to keep shooting because the next one might go in, and when the basketball goes, everyone loves you, baby.

Just check out the way Game 5 ended, hugs all around for Artest — until Jackson tried to set him straight later in the locker room.

Maybe someone else pouts after getting it from the coach following a game-winning shot, but Artest, who goes on to get fined for showing up late to practice the next day, comes out shooting in Game 6.

If you know what drives Artest, wanting so much to fit in with the Lakers, be a champion and make a good impression, you should have guessed he would come out firing, hitting five of seven in the first quarter, including two of three from long range.

"Ron was spectacular for us," said Derek Fisher. "We couldn't have won this game without his effort. Kobe wouldn't have had the chance to do what he did at the end without Ron getting us there."

By the end of the third quarter, Artest had the Lakers running away from the Suns with 10 of 15, including four of six from three-point range and a total of 24 points.

"The Lord was with him tonight," said Jackson.

If Sasha Vujacic doesn't go stupid, and let me tell you, he can't help himself, this game is over and Artest probably leaves thinking he should keep on shooting.

But now it's time to take on Boston, and as Jackson noted, the Lakers brought Artest here to play defense.

"This is Ron's chance to shine," Jackson said, and if he does that, his teammates and coach will love him, which is all he really wants.

THE ANGELS win a regular-season game, and understandably surprised, in the celebration Kendry Morales broke his leg.

Happy to report the Lakers know how to win, and so no one was hurt.

BY THE way, as predicted here, the series ended in six games, and for all those who e-mailed to suggest it was crazy to write such a thing, this would probably be the right time to tender an apology.

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