Ron Artest's performance against 76ers suggest his foot injuries are improving
The only theory could've been the shoes.
Or so at least that's what Lakers Coach Phil Jackson suggested, jokingly or not, for the reason why Lakers forward Ron Artest had developed plantar fasciitis in both of his feet. Artest had done little this week to add to the story, other than saying on Twitter that Peak, the Chinese shoe company that endorses him, isn't the guilty party.
Other than that, Artest refused to acknowledge any sort of injuries, whether it be his feet, his injured right index finger or any symptoms that still lingered from the Christmas night concussion. Knowing Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is playing through a fractured right index finger, an injured pinky, elbow and now an ankle, well the man has a point.
But his 18-point effort on seven of 13 shooting in the Lakers' 99-91 victory Friday over the Philadelphia 76ers only brought to question why performances like these were so rare this past month. It was his feet, an injury he told reporters afterwards he hadn't treated properly this past offseason. He played through two torn ligaments last season with Houston, and the pain eventually affected the bottom of his feet.
That's since been treated, Artest told the media he's felt better since Sunday's game against Toronto. Nonetheless, Artest's performance against Philadelphia resulted in his highest offensive effort this whole month. That, coupled with a defensive presence that carried over from Wednesday's win against Indiana, shows Artest has moved on from the injuries that previously slowed him down.
Artest is far from mastering the triangle offense; there were numerous instances against Philadelphia where he stood idly on the perimeter. And his three pointer from the top of the key that gave the Lakers a 91-80 lead with 3:03 remaining was really just the result of Lamar Odom kicking out of a double team. But there were numerous plays that illustrated Artest's aggressiveness and defensive mastery kicking in, resulting in 76ers forward Andre Iguodala hoisting only seven shots and committing five turnovers.
The effort was possible because of his healing feet, even if it required Artest to return to the locker room and miss the second quarter until the 5:03 mark after feeling tightened up.
1st quarter, 11:41
From the top of the key, Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson drives right as Iguodala cuts to the left before dropping back behind the three-point line on the left side. Iverson's drive catches Lakers guard Derek Fisher off guard, prompting Artest to stay put near the free-throw line to help. Iverson crosses over with his left hand, drives inside and then tries to pitch out to Iguodala.
Because he's positioned squarely between Iverson and Iguodala, Artest intercepts the pass and leads the break. Referees whistle Philly guard and former UCLA product Jrue Holiday for goal-tending on Artest's layup attempt, a play that also drew a foul on Iguodala. Artest's three-point play gives the Lakers a 3-0 lead.
1st quarter, 8:34
While Fisher brings the ball up the floor, Artest cuts from the right wing to the right block. From the top of the key, Fisher passes to Artest, who catches the ball just above the free-throw line in triple-threat position against Iguodola. Artest immediately drives left for the left-handed layup. With the Lakers trailing 6-5, Artest has scored all the team's points thus far.
1st quarter, 6:54
Artest inbounds the ball from the far right side of the court to the Lakers Andrew Bynum just above the far wing. Artest cuts to the far corner behind the three-point line, and gets a pass from Bynum. He goes one-on-one against Iguodala, dribbles between his legs, crosses left and then drives in for the left-handed layup. That tied the score at 8-8.
2nd quarter :51
Bynum's block on 76ers forward Thaddeus Young nearly went out of bounds by the near side of the court. But Artest raced after the ball, passing it between his legs to Gasol. He threw an outlet pass to Bryant, who jumped in mid-air by the right block and passed behind his shoulder to Bynum. He drew a foul on Iguodala and converted on both free throws for the 49-40 lead with 44.6 seconds remaining.
3rd quarter, 11:19
The only explanation for the following play is that it's Ron Artest. Phiadelphia forward Elton Brand set a screen on him, allowing Iguodala to cut left inside before Lakers forward Pau Gasol switched. Artest rolls around Brand to pursue Iguodala, but within a split second of recognizing Gasol's switch and Brand receiving the ball from Iverson, Artest faces Brand straight up near the top of the key. Brand dribbles right, posts up against Artest and switches to his left hand. As he attempts to drive left, Artest swipes the ball away and picks it up. His wide open layup rims out, but Artest is there for the putback, giving the Lakers a 55-42 lead.
4th quarter, 3:36 - 3:29
Iguodala grabs a long rebound off Bryant's missed three-pointer and looks for an open drive against Fisher in the paint. But Bryant cuts in from the left side to stop him from driving left, while Artest races back and nearly forces a turnover as Iguodala crosses over to his right. Artest forces Iguodala to pick up his dribble and settle for a pass to Iverson, who is then fouled by Bryant. Artest's defensive stop prevents Philadelphia from cutting into the Lakers' 88-80 lead.
4th quarter, 2:30 - 2:16
After Artest misses an open three-pointer from the top of the key, Young can't hold on to the loose ball. Artest approaches him just above the circle and swipes the ball, which bounces off the backboard into Bryant's hands. He feeds the ball inside to Artest, who makes a quick past to his left to Gasol. He misses on the lay in, but makes the putback for a 93-82 lead.
Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest tosses the ball back to the court between his legs after chasing down a loose ball near the sideline in the first half Friday night. Credit: Matt Slocum / Associated Press