Ron Artest, left, hopes the Lakers can take advantage of their relatively… (Matthew Emmons / US Presswire )
Ron Artest was surprised to hear it.
"Oh, wow," he said.
Yep, the Lakers are that close to the second-best record in the NBA.
They've gone 11-1 since the All-Star break and moved from the sixth-best record to half a game behind Boston and Chicago for second.
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They surely won't catch San Antonio in the standings, but their schedule favors them against the others in the chase for home-court advantage. It's even surprising their own players, apparently.
It was worth investigating on an otherwise quiet day in which Kobe Bryant observed practice but didn't participate and the NBA withheld judgment on a possible Andrew Bynum suspension until Sunday.
The Lakers (49-20) have played more road games than any other team, giving them a major scheduling advantage over Chicago (49-19), Boston (49-19), Dallas (48-21) and Miami (48-22).
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They have only four road games left: at Utah, Golden State, Portland and Sacramento.
"Right now, it's that time," Artest said. "You have to understand what everybody else has going on. We've got a good chance to catch up. We've got a chance to pile up some victories at home."
Boston has eight road games remaining, including ones in San Antonio, Chicago and Miami. The Bulls have seven road games, as does Miami.
The Lakers' direct threat in the Western Conference standings, Dallas, has a six-game trip that starts next Saturday.
The Lakers will have to balance finishing ahead of all those teams with their own personal well-being: Bryant has been slowed by a sprained left ankle and Bynum has complained of a sore knee.
Bryant watched part of the Lakers' practice a day after making only six of 17 shots and getting accidentally smacked in the head by Minnesota guard Martell Webster.
He did not talk to reporters Saturday. His neck and ankle were sore, Coach Phil Jackson said.
"We haven't talked about [Sunday] yet," Jackson said.
That would be the Lakers' next game, against Portland at Staples Center.
Bryant said Friday night he would "be ready for sure…I promise you that," but the Lakers couldn't make the same promise about Bynum.
The NBA will decide by Sunday whether the 23-year-old center will be suspended for a game … or possibly longer. Bynum was ejected midway through the fourth quarter against Minnesota after a flagrant foul on Michael Beasley.
Bynum delivered a forearm blow that flattened Beasley, who left the game because of a bruised hip after taking two free throws.
Bynum did not talk to reporters Saturday. If he is barred from playing against Portland, the Lakers will employ their familiar lineup of Pau Gasol at center and Lamar Odom at power forward.
Beasley might want to head for a different court if he sees Artest playing on one this summer.
"I love playing against him, but he talks a lot of trash," Artest said. "I wish we could have been in the streetball park. This team's a good team, so I can't really give him 30 or 40 [points] like I would like to, so that was the most frustrating part. I couldn't just get in there and destroy him on offense and lock him up the whole time on defense."
Artest was hit with a technical foul for jawing at Beasley in Friday's game. Jackson said Artest was the recipient of "some disrespectful things going on out there," though Artest downplayed that part.
Artest called Beasley a "very good" player but didn't like the Timberwolves' defense. He said it was a "gimmick" scheme because Beasley stayed so far off him, daring him to shoot from outside.
Artest then joked that Jackson and Minnesota Coach Kurt Rambis conspired to frustrate him. Jackson and Rambis are longtime friends.
"They set me up," Artest said with a humorous glint in his eyes. "[Jackson] said, 'Ron's going to do this, so play him like this.' I think he and Phil had dinner about me."