Ron Artest attributes his playoff consistency to scaling back his preparation
The Lakers' most consistent presence through two playoff games has come from an unlikely source, none other than Ron Artest.
He's averaged 15.5 points on 45.5% shooting and 8.5 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per contest, a stark improvement from the numbers he posted in the regular season with a career-low 8.5 points on only 39.7% shooting in 29.4 minutes per game. Artest attributed the turnaround to decreasing his workload of off-court conditioning and shooting exercises since the All-Star break, though he didn't reveal specifics.
"I used to be in the gym a lot," said Artest, who averaged 15.5 points on 45.5% shooting in 34.6 minutes per game following the All-Star break. "I can't do it now. You can't be here shooting and wasting your legs."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson pointed out that Artest's consistency through two games has helped alleviate the poor shooting numbers, such as Game 2, in which Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher combined for a seven-of-29 clip.
"He's filling the gaps," Jackson said of Artest. "There's a need, and he is filling the needs. We have guys who aren't playing up to their level, and he's filling in what we need to have guys fill in with scoring."
Artest has shown that capability by grabbing rebounds when Gasol and Lamar Odom didn't in Game 1. He made big shots in Game 2 when Bryant didn't. And he's brought an effort that most of the team severely lacked in Game 1, prompting Jackson to say that he was the best player in the game. As much as Artest avoids over-analyzing his performances, there's a value in his recognition that sometimes less is more.
There were countless practices this season during which he stayed in the gym when no one was there, putting up shots. Although that approach definitely discredited any notion that he wasn't as hungry as last year for a championship ring, the activity didn't really equate to achievement. He continued to appear lost in the offense, uncomfortable with a diminished role because of Matt Barnes, and his offseason effort in slimming down to 250 pounds to guard speedy scorers came with mixed results.
"I know I'm getting older, so I'm trying to conserve energy," Artest said. "You want to come in shape obviously. But when you play in the games during the season, you'll get in shape. The game will take care of itself and your conditioning if you play hard."
Just don't ask Artest to provide specifics on the degree to which he's scaled back. "If I write it down, I'd remember. But I don't write it." But in a way, that's the reason why Artest thrives in bigger moments, such as the playoffs. His performances have shown that the less he's thinking, the better he performs. That doesn't necessarily mean that will improve his fluidity in the offense, but oftentimes his over-thinking made him afraid to make mistakes. That's also what prompted him to shoot so much in practice, believing that eventually he could shoot himself out of a slump.
When I was younger, I worked out too much," Artest said. "It affected my game. I never had energy in the game. In the playoffs last year, I was working out a lot, but then I stopped. I saved my energy for the game. I had big games and big shooting games, and it wasn't because I was working on my shot. I learned how to rest and stay in shape."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: The Lakers' Ron Artest beats the Hornets' Chris Paul to a pass in the first round of the NBA playoffs at Staples Center Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times