Lakers forward Ron Artest powers his way to the basket on a drive down the… (Don Ryan / Associated Press )
Reporting from Portland — Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and Ron Artest, the wayward small forward, talked after the All-Star break about how Artest could contribute more to the team.
They talked about his play and about how he was needed in the stretch drive for the Lakers.
It may be only two games since the break, but Artest looks like a different player, a player with more confidence in his shot, a player willing to take the big shot.
"He knows his role, and we talked about it, how important he is to our team and what he has to do to keep us going," Jackson said.
Artest did a lot to help the Lakers defeat the Portland Trail Blazers, 106-101, Wednesday night in overtime at the Rose Garden.
He scored a season-high 24 points on eight-for-13 shooting.
He made missed just one of his six three-pointers.
He missed just one of his four free throws.
He had six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
"Yeah, that's one of the better games that he's played," Jackson said.
Against the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night, Artest was four for seven from the field, one for three from three-point range. He had 11 points.
That's two consecutive good offensive games for Artest.
"It's nothing, really," Artest said. "It's just two games."
Trying to get Artest to explain why so much has changed is nearly impossible.
He didn't score against the Cleveland Cavaliers' in that loss last Wednesday night.
He hasn't always looked to be ready to play.
So he was asked if he is more comfortable, even if it was after just two games.
"I always feel comfortable," Artest said. "I always feel confident. I always feel good. Just because you play bad one game, you can't blame it on nothing. You got to feel the same way."
Still, his five three-pointers were one shy of his career high.
"It was nothing special," Artest said.
Maybe, Jackson was asked, Artest is more engaged now?
"He's shooting the ball better," Jackson said. "I think that's a big part of it. I don't know whether engagement helps you shoot the ball. I don't think it does. I'd get engaged every other week if that happened. The reality is that he made some shots and things happened good for him out there and he got confident and comfortable."
Artest's three-pointer with 1:29 left in the fourth pulled the Lakers to within four points.
His three-pointer with 2:46 left in the game gave the Lakers a 95-92 lead.
It was another big moment for Artest, another moment in which he produced for the Lakers when they needed it the most from him.
"There are going to be games where I'm not going to have opportunities," Artest said. "Tonight the opportunities came. They were just leaving me open, disrespecting me."