Game Notes: Nuggets at Lakers
Artest goes out and earns his stripes.
So this is the reason why the Lakers went out and got Ron Artest.
During the off-season, the Purple and Gold sent Trevor Ariza packing to Houston. And in the process, they managed to pick up Artest, undoubtedly, with the hopes that his defensive-minded approach to the game and timely perimeter shooting would end up paying off in the long run.
It’s beginning to appear as if the Lakers made a wise decision.
Artest frustrated Carmelo Anthony throughout the Lakers’ 95-89 victory at Staples Center on Sunday, holding one of the NBA‘s top scorers to 21 points, on 7-19 shooting from the field. It’s worth noting that Anthony also had eight turnovers before fouling late in the fourth quarter.
Artest got his on the offensive end of the floor too, and then some.
He came out hot, scoring eight points in the first quarter alone before finishing with 17 points on the afternoon, highlighted by four three-pointers. Can’t forget to mention his 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 steals in 40-plus minutes. Looks like the Lakers are getting their money‘s worth.
*** There’s a familiar face, Arron Afflalo, a local product if there ever was one. He was a stud, flat out stud during his high school days at Centennial in Compton, located about 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. After that, he attended nearby UCLA. For those wondering what his homecoming gift is, well, let’s put it this way: Afflalo gets to guard Kobe Bryant all game long.
*** Someone mentions something about college hoops to Melo and he’s all smiles. Must be because his old team, Syracuse, is poised to take over the nation’s top spot in the Associated Press poll on Monday morning. Hopefully, we’ll be able to catch up with him later and get him to comment on the Orange and how far he thinks they can go in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
*** The starts are out, as always. Jack Nicholson is in the house. Dude is a diehard Lakers fan. Denzel Washington and Lenny Kravitz are sitting courtside, chopping it up. Leonardo DiCaprio has a front-row seat. Jessica Alba too. Terrell Owens is walking around, presumably looking for a job. Doesn’t he know that we don’t have an NFL franchise in this California region? Even if we did have a team, he wouldn’t be welcome around these parts.
*** Artest and Anthony are going at it. Have a feeling it’s going to be like this the rest of the way. Willing to put money on it.
*** The Lakers have no inside answer for Nene Hilario. None whatsoever. He gets loose underneath the basket, seemingly at will, scoring six points and adding four rebounds to give the Nuggets a 13-7 lead at 7:33.
*** Artest gets it going. He steals the ball from Kenyon Martin and goes coast-to-coast for a two-handed dunk. Back-to-back three-pointers follow. The Lakers cut the deficit down to three points with 3:01 left.
*** Apparently, Afflalo is up to the challenge against Bryant, who misses three of his first four shots. Clearly affected, Kobe is called for a technical foul at 1:13. Chauncey Billups converts the free-throw.
*** Billups buries one from way downtown and Denver takes a 29-21 advantage at the end of the first 12 minutes.
*** With Derek Fisher sidelined, in foul trouble, Shannon Brown enjoys some extra run. His one-handed dunk along the baseline is uncontested, no one on the Nuggets wants to be the next guy getting posterized. The Lakers, however, still trail by eight points with 8:18 remaining before the break.
*** Ty Lawson come off the bench and provides a spark. Quick as a cat, he manages to work his way into the lane against the big boys and is fouled on a couple of different occasions. Lawson steps to the line and hits four free-throws. A floater in the lane gives Denver a 40-27 lead at 7:09.
*** Melo and Ron Ron are mixing it up.
*** Nene is putting in work. Andrew Bynum picks up his third foul with 4:39 left and Gasol gets his third at the 3:15. Both head to the bench. The Nuggets are up by 11 points. It will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond.
*** Right on queue, Josh Powell makes his presence felt. He makes a pair of baskets and steals a Billups pass just before halftime. The Lakers are down 52-43 at intermission but there’s plenty of game left in this one.
*** You guessed it, Carmelo and Artest are preparing for battle.
*** Bynum converts a pair of layups, Artest adds one of his own and Gasol knocks down a free-throw to open up the second half of play. George Karl doesn’t waste any time and calls a timeout at 9:50. The Lakers trail by a bucket, and perhaps more importantly, they have momentum.
*** They say good defense leads to better offense. This holds true for Afflalo. He forces a turnover and finishes at the other end with a breakaway dunk. Shortly thereafter, a three-pointer finds the bottom of the net. All of a sudden, the Nuggets are up, 64-53, at 5:22. They’re giving the Lakers everything they can handle, no doubt about it.
*** The Lakers go on a run. Kobe hits a pair of free-throws with 3:03 left, his first points in 16-plus minutes. Artest, Gasol and Lamar Odom do their parts and make several shots from the charity stripe down the stretch to cut into the Denver lead, which is three points at the end of three. The Nuggets look like a completely different team.
*** Odom has gone about his business quietly. That is, until now. He buries a three-pointer and makes a fade away bank to give the Lakers their first lead in a while, 74-72. Odom hits a 10-footer to extend the advantage to 78-74, at 9:01.
*** Bryant knocks down a baseline jumper at 8:14, his first field goal in two-plus quarters. He’s not shooting well, that’s for sure, but Kobe is doing all the little things needed to win. The Lakers lead by six points with 7:56 left on the clock.
*** Talk about a crafty veteran move, Billups gets Fisher to foul him on a three-pointer. Of course, he makes all three from the stripe. Billups follows with a shot from beyond the arc and a 15-footer. Denver is back on top, 87-86, at 4:09.
*** No surprise, Anthony and Artest exchange pleasantries. Melo gets caught thought, picks up his sixth foul and heads to the bench for good with 2:13 left.
*** Kobe takes over, but not the way he normally does, all by himself. He hands out assists to Odom and Artest, hits two free-throws, sets up Gasol for an easy basket, and puts the game away with a pair of free-throws in crunch time.
*** The final score reads: Lakers 95, Nuggets 89. Bryant’s final line reads: 14 points, on 3-17 shooting from the field, to go along with 12 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Luckily for the Lakers, Artest was around to pick up the slack.
*** Anthony was in no mood to talk about Syracuse afterward. He did, however, offer up this assessment of Artest and the rest of the Lakers defense: “”I think this is what they were looking for, especially when they play us, to be a little more physical with me. Just seeing what they can get away with and what they can’t.”
*** In the locker room, Artest didn’t shy away from questions about Melo. “He’s definitely one of the better players in the NBA,” Artest said. “But like I say all the time, when I’m playing for years, I never worry about the offensive player. Whether they get 50 or whether they get 10, I don’t really care about an offensive player, even if they have a good game.”