Williams' speed a challenge for Artest
"I'm a little concerned that he doesn't have a 'scorer' to go out and defend, like a Carmelo Anthony, a qualified, big scorer," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said about Artest before Game 1 on Sunday.
The day before that, Artest said he and Jackson hadn't talked about the possibility of him guarding Utah's best scorer, Deron Williams, who averaged 25.8 points on 49.4 percent shooting in the first round against Denver.
Well, the cat's out of the bag: Artest, a 6-foot-7 forward, will guard Williams, a 6-3 guard, in the second round. Jackson explained the reasoning behind the move Monday.
"One of the plans that Utah has used is to try and take Derek [Fisher] out of the game early with post-ups or fouls or situations that would get Derek out of the game from that matchup," Jackson said. "So, to prevent that, we used Ron on Deron right away because Fish had the foul on the first play of the game. That put us a little bit off him in situations and I think we'll probably tag team against him during the course of this series."
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In years past, Williams would attack Fisher from the start of the game. If Fisher picked up a couple of early fouls, the Lakers' next option to put on Williams was Jordan Farmar, who might be able to meet Williams in foot speed, but gives up almost 30 pounds in that matchup in post-up situations.
After scoring 24 points in Game 1 with Artest on him for much of the game, Williams said he hoped to exploit his quickness advantage as the series continued.
"I guess they're going to have to exploit it then," Artest said Monday. "There's definitely an advantage. He's a point guard, I'm a small forward. I'm 250 [pounds], he's 225. He's definitely quicker."
When the Williams line of questioning continued, Artest leaned on his work against Kevin Durant in the first round.
"Obviously this is Deron Williams' fifth year and Kevin has three years," Artest said. "So there's a little more experience on Williams' part. They're both great scorers, they just do it in different ways. Obviously I just got finished guarding the No. 1 scorer in the league. He had some success at times, but I still think he was a little young. I'm getting a more experienced guy."
Durant averaged 25.0 points on 35.0 percent shooting against the Lakers after averaging 30.1 points on 47.6 percent during the regular season. Artest gave up a lot of length to the 6-9 Durant (Kobe Bryant repeatedly refers to Durant as 7-feet tall) who also has a 7-5 wingspan, but he got the job done.
"He has a 7-5 wingspan?" Artest asked, eyes wide, on Monday. "Oh my goodness, how did I make it out of that?"
Before the second-round series began, Bryant said it was a possibility he would guard his former Olympic teammate Williams just as he took on Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook, but it appeared he was comfortable with Artest taking over the assignment.
"Ron's looking forward to that challenge," Bryant said. "It's a different look for him obviously, playing against a guy who is 7-feet and comes off of screens to a guy that handles the ball on the perimeter."
In preparing for Tuesday's Game 2, Artest hinted that he plans on exploiting his weight and muscle advantage on Williams before Williams has a chance to elude him with his quickness.
"I've be thinking about playing hard every day," Artest said. "I go to sleep just wanting to play hard. I even sleep rough. I'll be asleep and just knocking my wife over the head. I eat my breakfast rough."
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Even if Artest isn't able to contain Williams, he's benefited the Lakers already in the series by the way his teammates have adopted the same mentality.
"Once you lose Game 1, you come into Game 2 thinking you don't want to go home with a 0-2 disadvantage," Pau Gasol said. "So you got to give your best effort in Game 2 and play extra aggressive. That's what I expect out of Utah. What does that mean? That means we have to come out even more aggressive than they do because we understand the importance of winning that game and going with that advantage to Utah."
Being counted on to guard the likes of Durant and Williams, two scorers with a complex array of moves in their possession, has actually simplified things for Artest.
"I don't have to average 20 like when I was in Sacramento," Artest said. "I don't have to do much. Last year when I was with the Rockets, I had to lock down [Portland's Brandon] Roy and then I had to get layups. I had to lock down this guy and then I had to make sure my team was in the right spots and passing the ball and moving and attacking and scoring and doing everything. I don't really have to be one of the best two-way players in the game as a Laker, I just have to be one of the best defensive players."Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.