Looking at who can fill Ron Artest's void
I didn't exactly have to consult a psychic or run an NBA 2K11 simulation to predict Lakers forward Ron Artest would serve a one-game suspension for his clothesline on Dallas guard Jose Barea in the final seconds of the Lakers' 93-81 Game 2 loss Wednesday to the Mavericks.
But I may have to regarding what the Lakers' lineup change to offset Artest's absence will entail. After all, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wasn't entirely forthcoming about his plans, simply saying with a smile, "You'll know that [Friday]."
Here are a few possibilities.
1. Kobe Bryant plays at small forward, while Steve Blake/Shannon Brown share backcourt duties with Derek Fisher. This won't really be much of a transition for Bryant considering his strong work in the post. But the feasibility of how this plan works rests mostly on how well Blake and/or Brown could handle backcourt situations. Based on how horribly the bench has played so far in the series, the initial prognosis suggests it would come with mixed results. Perhaps Derek Fisher's presence on the floor alone might spur Blake and Brown to defer to his running the offense instead of shooting outside shots that rarely go in the basket. But anything involving the Killer B's isn't reliable.
2. Lamar Odom starts at small forward. Odom has worn this hat many times, assuming the starting position during Andrew Bynum's rehab from right knee surgery, his progression back into the starting lineup and his two-game suspension for a flagrant foul. But this entails a different responsibility. Starting at small forward would feature Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the floor, a combination that the Lakers rarely feature, which is actually a good thing. As much as the Lakers boast about their size, this lineup hasn't worked in the few times they've played together on the court. Though Odom has expressed in the past that he would like to play small forward, he immediately recognized how drastically it would change the Lakers' defensive rotations.
"I'll adjust and try to impact the game wherever I am on the court," Odom said. "You start from the outside rather than starting from inside and trying to have our bigs from the post to the corner."
3. Matt Barnes starts at small forward and Odom comes off the bench. Barnes' play might not warrant a starting spot, but remember that time early in the season when Barnes was logging heavier minutes than Artest, leading some to think he'd eventually take Artest's spot? It was a long time ago, sure, and Barnes' consistency has been nonexistent since he had surgery on his right knee in early January. But when he has played a good game since then, Barnes has talked about how having an extended run helped keep his leg warm and gave him better rhythm. Barnes' playing with the starters would also minimize the likelihood that he'll fire unnecessary shots and prompt him to make hustle plays.
4. Start Luke Walton. In case this happens, I've made sure the warranty on my computer still works considering the inevitability that the live chat during Game 3 will simply crash. But I'm not just blowing smoke when I say this might happen. Walton hasn't played a single minute in the playoffs and he hasn't been shooting the ball particularly well (32.8%). So I don't imagine that he'll get much playing time. But for the sake of keeping the rotation changes to an exact minimum, putting him in the starting lineup might not actually be a bad thing. You never know. This might be the game where Walton drops 40 points, makes the game winner and then prompts management to rush over with another six-year, $30-million contract.
Before you fill up the chat threads calling for my head, giving him a limited run in the starting rotation might be feasible while granting the heavier minutes to Odom and Barnes off the bench.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Ron Artest walks off the court after being ejected in the second half of Game 2 against Dallas on Wednesday night. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press