Artest is ready, fo­cused

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - Mike Bres­na­han

If Ron Artest had his way, he’d still be on the in­ter­view dais in the af­ter­math of the Lak­ers’ cham­pi­onship cel­e­bra­tion, soaked in cham­pagne, sur­rounded by fam­ily mem­bers and yelling out loud to re­porters and broad­cast­ers, if not the world, “Ac­knowl­edge me, please!”

It was the first stop in an off-sea­son of par­ty­ing that fi­nally ended a few days ago. Where to be­gin?

With his fre­quent ap­pear­ances at night­clubs? His ban­ter with late-night talk show hosts? The hero’s wel­come re­turn­ing home to Queens­bridge, N.Y.? Or the wacky race car he was driv­ing when he was pulled over by a Los An­ge­les po­lice of­fi­cer? (It turned out to be street-le­gal and the only

prob­lem was an ex­pired reg­is­tra­tion, Artest said.)

Artest smiles when he looks back on it, start­ing with his 10-minute stand-up rou­tine shortly af­ter the Lak­ers won the cham­pi­onship in June.

“No­body ever did it like that — real free, all pos­i­tive en­ergy, fam­ily, cham­pagne,” he said Mon­day. “I wasn’t even sup­posed to go up to the podium.”

Artest took it from there. The party had started.

It took him awhile to fi­nally re­move his uni­form from Game 7 of the Fi­nals.

“It was like two and a half days af­ter,” he said. “It was a bad sit­u­a­tion. It was real smelly.”

Artest car­ried the Lak­ers in the first half of Game 7, col­lect­ing 12 points and three steals while his team­mates foundered, but he scowls at per­ceived slights by Bos­ton per­son­nel who have strongly sug­gested the Lak­ers wouldn’t have won had Ken­drick Perkins been healthy.

“They were up 13, and now they have got all these ex­cuses about why they didn’t win Game 7,” Artest said.

“It was the biggest min­utes of my ca­reer at the most cru­cial time of my ca­reer. I never got down on my­self through­out the whole sea­son. That’s what that Game 7 was.”

Artest ac­knowl­edged he didn’t do much with a bas­ket­ball dur­ing the off­sea­son. Like most of his team­mates, he got far away from the court. He opted in­stead for hour af­ter hour of dodge ball at the L.A. Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter.

“It’s good for agility, good for stay­ing in shape,” said Artest, who smiled when asked whether he was pro­fi­cient at it.

“No. I can catch, but there’s a lot of good dodge ball play­ers.”

Lak­ers Coach Phil Jack­son watched Artest’s off­sea­son from afar, some­times chuck­ling, but he fired a mi­nor warn­ing shot last week be­fore train­ing camp be­gan.

Jack­son pro­vided an update Mon­day.

“He’s been fine. He’s suf­fer­ing a lit­tle bit of the pangs of train­ing camp, though,” Jack­son said. “Mo­bil­ity-wise, he’s got a lit­tle ham­string is­sue. He’s man­ag­ing to push him­self through prac­tice, but you can see he’s not mov­ing with the flu­id­ity that he’s well-known for.”

Artest has a slightly strained right ham­string.

Artest, who will be 31 in Novem­ber, said he weighed 258 pounds at the start of train­ing camp, 10 fewer than a year ago. He wants to be 254 when the sea­son starts, re­mem­ber­ing how slug­gish he felt early last sea­son when he was too heavy.

“I’m in great shape,” he said. “I’m go­ing to be quicker this sea­son than I was last sea­son.”

Artest made an­other switch from a year ago, go­ing from jersey No. 37 to 15, the num­ber he wore at St. John’s Uni­ver­sity and ear­lier in his NBA ca­reer.

“I get a chance to fin­ish off what I started with the 15,” he said.

Artest wore No. 37 in honor of Michael Jack­son’s “Thriller” be­ing atop al­bum-sales charts for 37 con­sec­u­tive weeks.

“The MJ trib­ute is never over,” Artest said al­most wist­fully. “It was a great sea­son, and that 37 was spe­cial.”

The new sea­son is right around the corner. Artest says he’ll be ready.

“I’m much more com­fort­able this year, but still I’ve got to play my role, stay hum­ble in my role, not do too much,” he said. “I gave so much away early in my ca­reer, from awards to ac­co­lades to wins with all the trou­ble I had. So it’s real im­por­tant right now to be fo­cused.”

Bryant, Blake take part in prac­tice

Kobe Bryant took part in the evening ses­sion of Mon­day’s two prac­tices and re­mained on track to play in the team’s first ex­hi­bi­tion game next Mon­day in London against the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves.

“He just wants to get a lit­tle bit of ac­tiv­ity on the court in con­tact with bod­ies, so he can feel like he’s back play­ing a lit­tle bit,” Jack­son said.

Bryant, how­ever, de­clined to pro­vide an update on his sur­gi­cally re­paired right knee.

“I’m not talk­ing about my knee any­more,” he said.

Steve Blake also prac­ticed Mon­day af­ter sus­tain­ing a mildly sprained left an­kle the pre­vi­ous day be­cause he was pushed by Sasha Vu­jacic at the end of a drill.

Lak­ers,

Robert Gauthier

NEW LOOK: Kobe Bryant checks the new uni­form of Ron Artest dur­ing the Lak­ers’ me­dia day. Artest switched from No. 37 to 15, which he’d worn in past.

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