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T.J. SIMERS

One thrilling win doesn't make Lakers championship material

So, yes, they beat Oklahoma City in double overtime and all that, but it is still the same team that has been a mess this season.

April 22, 2012|T.J. Simers

I broke it to Kobe Bryant after Sunday's Lakers thriller.

It's now Jordan Hill's team.

"Well, he's got the right first name for it," says Bryant, yuks all around after a game that would have been remembered for Ron Artest's vicious assault if it weren't for such an improbable and stirring victory.

Winning cures so many ills and covers up so many problems but unfortunately does not wipe out a suspension that is surely to come with the playoffs about to begin.

The Lakers beat Oklahoma City in double overtime as Hill comes off the bench to be discovered here in Hollywood. Some people will probably pronounce the Lakers championship-worthy.

But a few hours earlier this same team is nothing but a disappointing mess, too slow and not athletic enough to compete with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Worse yet, a nation watches and they are not likable. Magic Johnson is talking on ABC at halftime about how "disheartening" it is to see players in Lakers uniforms delivering "cheap shots."

I can't say for sure I heard it correctly, but it sounds as if ABC's Jon Barry is referring to Artest as Metta Weird Peace — as if anyone would disagree.

The Lakers ended last season an embarrassment, Andrew Bynum body-slamming Dallas guard Jose Barea. Now it's Artest flipping out and delivering an elbow to the head of James Harden.

Someone goes vicious on someone else like that and they usually hear police sirens as they run away from a fallen victim. Artest just ran away.

Artest will be suspended, the best guess for four or five games. But why not make it for the playoffs and send him home until next season? There is no place in society or sports for such behavior.

Artest wasn't mad at Harden; probably didn't even know it was Harden. But he was expressing himself as selfish players do, dunking on the Thunder and beating his chest to let everyone know what they had just witnessed.

When he felt someone sharing his stage, he delivered a blow that upon replay looked like something that would send most people to a hospital. It had to make you cringe.

He showed no remorse on the court, later calling the elbow "unintentional." Of course, jails are full of people who lost control for just an instant and didn't mean to do what they did.

As Artest made his way off the court after being ejected, Lakers fans showered him with cheers. They should have been ejected as well.

As the night goes on, Artest tweets — and you're probably surprised I know this. But thanks to The Times' Mark Medina, who monitors these things, I can tell you that Artest writes: "Hope James Hardin is ok.''

He doesn't spell Harden's name correctly, but that probably won't result in a longer suspension.

Artest goes on to write, "I remember when I hit by Marc Gasol the same way. I was spitting up blood and a headache during the game." Medina, our tweet translator, believes Artest is talking about when he got hit, and what a surprise to learn Artest is talking about himself.

He also tweets, "I just watched the replay again….Oooo. My celebration of the dunk really was too much…didn't even see James…Omg…Looks bad.''

By the sound of it, he never stopped by the Thunder locker room to check on Harden for himself.

Throw in a sniveling Pau Gasol, who never thinks he's guilty of a foul, and Kobe going hog on everyone, and what's to like as this team begins the fourth quarter down by 16 points?

Bynum is on the bench, where he will remain through the fourth quarter and two overtime periods. So, is all this supposed to mean something?

Do the Lakers now go as far as Hill and Devin Ebanks will carry them? Does Steve Blake come up big again?

Let's get serious here. For one afternoon it's a blast. Kobe hits some more amazing shots, and with Bynum on the bench he avoids the criticism that might have come for not throwing the ball inside to him.

He also dribbles the ball like a Harlem Globetrotter, a one-man show near the end of regulation, and then throws up an airball. If Kevin Durant comes down and makes a shot to win the game, the Lakers have problems — and one of them is the ball hog.

But Durant misses, and Russell Westbrook, hounded and rattled by Kobe's defense all game long, misses with a chance to win in the first overtime.

The Lakers win, and all is well.

"Do you think this is a championship team?" Kobe is asked, and he says, "We are.

"The thing that makes us a championship team is our size, our ability to defend and our versatility. The biggest thing for us is how well we're going to shoot the ball from the perimeter. If we shoot the ball well from the perimeter, it opens things up drastically."

So now it's Steve Blake's team?

"We're a much better team when we play at a slower pace, and play a game in the 90s," Kobe says. "That's our championship DNA."

But I wonder.

"Are you speaking as a coach or a player?" I say.

And he laughs, a win doing that.

CONGRATULATIONS TO the Kings on their big win.

I knew they could beat Charlotte.

But let's see how they do against the Lakers on Thursday.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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