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Lakers' Ron Artest key difference in 95-89 victory over Denver Nuggets

February 28, 2010 |  4:54 pm

Ron Artest

Holding court with a group of reporters, Lakers forward Ron Artest recently shared how his revamped diet plan is rather simple to follow so long as it's done consistently. He doesn't eat late at night. When he does eat, there's more fruits and vegetables. And he's added late-night runs on the treadmill to his conditioning for good measure.

Even following the simplest diets, often touted among the general public during the New Year, often become difficult simply because the daily minutia often feeds temptations to continue poor habits. It's also easier to break because those diets don't always yield immediate results.

Well, the public saw in the Lakers' 95-89 victory Sunday against the Denver Nuggets the immediate benefits of Artest's revamped diet. Though Denver forward Carmelo Anthony, the team's leading scorer, had a team-high 21 points, Artest held him to seven-for-19 shooting and forced him to commit eight turnovers. More importantly, Artest's play sparked an energy and toughness that sorely lacked in the first half. Artest has his diet to thank, which he says has knocked him down from 268 pounds to 255.

"In the last four games, I held the last five opponents under their average," said Artest, who also scored 17 points. "That’s a rhythm I get. Some people get in shooting rhythms. I get in a defensive rhythm. I think I'm in a rhythm right now defensively. That’s how I'm going to try to do and keep people under their average. I can keep my strength and lose weight so that’s great."

The Lakers sorely needed it, as a contentious first half led to many of the team feeling frustrated, most notably Kobe Bryant, who drew a technical foul and was limited to 14 points overall on three-for-17 shooting. The hushed signal from the Nuggets guard J.R. Smith after a dunk in the first half was the most vivid example of Denver trying to intimidate the Lakers. Smith's recent comments on Twitter, which said "Dont get me wrong kobe is great but not when he play me," didn't upset Mamba, who said, "I don’t take that really seriously. Look at the track record. It was something that was said in jest to be funny about it."

But there was plenty that irked the Lakers. They trailed 52-43 at halftime because Denver went 16 of 23 from the free-throw line, while also committing 13 turnovers. It was obvious the Nuggets followed the conventional game plan against the Lakers, by trying to take advantage of their perceived softness, holding Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to a combined nine points inside.

The team said the Nuggets made some of those comments of that nature, something Lakers forward Gasol said he tuned out because "I don't listen to things that don't make sense."

"We need to really be the aggressor and challenge people instead of always being challenged," Gasol said. "That’s how I feel. Teams come here. We go on the road and teams try to challenge us. We rely so much on our quality and depth of our team, we’re not aggressive enough. We need to start challenging people and imposing our will."

And with Artest, they got just that. He opened the second with an early steal and layup that closed the lead to 52-49 and finished the quarter with six steals. Meanwhile, the Lakers' defensive intensity picked up, holding Denver to 36% shooting in the third quarter and 26.3% in the fourth. That in effect sparked a Lakers offense that featured Lamar Odom (20 points, 12 rebounds), Bryant dishing out a season-high 12 assists and a 15-7 fourth-quarter run. 

Every time Artest has a standout defensive performance and any offensive progression (or lack thereof), inevitable evaluations pop up on whether the Lakers are better with him or were better with Trevor Ariza. Although this won't stop the prognosis to continue, no performance will fully answer that question until the entire season is over. Case in point, Ariza's reputation with the Lakers was largely built on his defensive contributions in last season's playoffs.

But on Sunday, Artest showed what he could provide, with Bryant saying he "earned his money today" and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson saying he did "a remarkable job on Anthony." And the result was a signature win for the Lakers (45-15), who hold a 5 1/2 game-lead over Denver (39-20). 

Said Artest: "We haven't beaten any good teams this year. This was a big one."

--Mark Medina

Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest, who harassed Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony into a seven-for-19 shooting performance, slaps the ball away on a drive in the fourth quarter Sunday. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.