Lakers defend Artest's defense
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant was honored, Ron Artest was snubbed, but the fact two Lakers were thought worthy of inclusion on the NBA All-Defensive team only goes to show why Los Angeles has held opponents to 39.9 percent shooting from the field during the playoffs, the No. 1 mark in the league.
Bryant was announced to the first team Wednesday, amassing 13 first-team votes and eight second-team votes from a panel consisting of the NBA's 30 head coaches, earning his fifth-straight first-team appearance.
"I didn't realize it was five straight years being on the first team All-Defense," Bryant said Thursday. "That's something that I'm extremely proud of. Defense I got to work a lot harder for the defensive part of it. I've always took pride in it, it's harder to play that side of the ball than it is the offensive end."
Artest, meanwhile, received only three first-team votes and five second-team votes to finish with 11 points (first place votes are worth two) and just missed out on making the second team that was rounded out by Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha who ended up with 14 points.
Artest's teammates came to the support of the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2003-04.
Bryant said he was "extremely" surprised when Artest's name wasn't announced, and there was "no question" the Lakers starting small forward in his first season with L.A. should have received the defensive honor.
"Total bull----, plain and simple," Bryant said.
Lamar Odom, who has seen Artest lock up opponents since they played AAU basketball as children in Queens, New York, said Artest should be an automatic honoree when it comes to defense.
"I'm always surprised when he's not on it," Odom said. "He should be put on it every year. He's one guy you should kind of stamp down for that. I don't know who plays better defense, especially at the forward position. ... I wish the players picked."
Because the selection process involves Lakers coach Phil Jackson's 29 other coaching colleagues, Jackson was not as critical of the results but did say Artest "should have been mentioned."
"A lot of times [with] my colleagues, I can't throw out a criticism towards them because I think sometimes they just take the safe route and vote for guys that are big-name players on the defensive team and overlook guys who really do work at the defensive end," Jackson said. "I'm happy to see a Sefolosha get on the second unit, a guy that's not a top-end scorer, not a 'star player' that gets some recognition for the effort they put in on the defensive end. In that regard, there's some guys that get there on their name alone, I think."
Whether Artest has the hardware to prove it or not, Bryant said that Artest's presence has improved the Lakers' ability to impose their will on opponents.
"He brought more of a physical nature to it," Bryant said. "[We're] more of a solid defensive team."
Lakers captain Derek Fisher said when he was relaxing at home Wednesday night after the Lakers had the day off, his thoughts drifted to how well the Lakers are executing on defense.
"Our numbers defensively and some of the things we're getting done out there are really good," Fisher said. "There are still some things we can improve on, of course ... but being on teams for years that were ridiculed so badly for not playing defense, we're playing some pretty solid defense."
Added Jackson: "That's really what a team has to do to win. They have to take special pride in their defense."
Utah's Andrei Kirilenko told the Associated Press on Thursday he will make his postseason debut in Game 3 after being out of the lineup since late March because of a strained left calf.
"We don't have that kind of luxury to wait, especially right now," Kirilenko said. "I feel way better than I was like a week ago so I have to get back and start playing the game."
The Lakers said the addition of the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Kirilenko who averaged 11.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game during the regular season gives Utah a different look on both offense and defense.
"He's an effective defender, maybe one of the most unique defenders in the league," Jackson said. "He can do many things -- block from behind, he chases guys down on breaks -- he's very good. Kobe's had opportunities against him when he's done well, but he's going to have to measure it. He's going to have to see what he can get in the process."
Bryant said it would be "interesting" to have Kirilenko on him, almost in a scoffing way. But he did have some compliments for the nine-year veteran.
"He's a great passer, he's great around the ball, you have to watch him coming from the weak side blocking shots," Bryant said. "He's extremely versatile, so it helps their offense and defense tremendously."
Rest vs. rust
While Fisher used the day off to think about team defense, Jackson and the rest of his coaching staff gathered Wednesday at the Lakers' practice facility to game plan for Saturday's Game 3. With the Lakers' roster riddled with injuries and three days on the schedule built in between Game 2 and Game 3, giving the players a day off was a no-brainer, but it comes at the risk of the players losing some of their rhythm.
"I always worry about a day off," Jackson said. "The day off is sometimes a disconnect and we just can't be disconnected during the playoffs."
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Artest agreed with Jackson, noting the idle time could affect the team's edge.
"It depends on how we use [the time off], if we get a lot of energy," Artest said. "We don't want to come out sluggish, we want to come out and take advantage of the day off instead of having it work against us."
The Lakers had a lengthy practice Thursday that focused on stopping transition opportunities and fighting through screens on defense, followed by a film session.
"We definitely got some work done today," Fisher said, "so any complacency or guys thinking they were going to come to practice today and kind of go through the motions, Phil made sure to shake that out of us pretty quickly and we got some things accomplished today for sure."
Jackson said it was "difficult" for a coach to ramp up the team's intensity after a day off.
"You just don't know how to grab the attention of the team, to set them on edge so that they're ready to come out and compete in a vastly hostile place," Jackson said. "You have to win the ballgame there under duress regardless; you're going to have to do the job."
Bryant said the main concern right now should be the team's banged-up bodies, rather than getting in reps.
"With nagging injuries, guys need to recuperate and recover a little bit, so these days off come at the right time," Bryant said. "It's not really about sharpness, it's about getting healthy."
Lakers starting center Andrew Bynum, who was diagnosed with a small tear of the meniscus in his right knee before the second round began, had limited participation in Thursday's practice.
"He's all right," Jackson said about Bynum. "I wanted him to go through conditioning at the end of practice today so he ran with the group. But just part of the practice, he didn't go the full length."
On the road again
While the Lakers have defeated Utah the last 15 times the teams played at Staples Center, the Jazz are a much better team at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City. Utah was 32-9 at home during the regular season as opposed to 21-20 on the road and went 3-0 at home in the first round against Denver, even though the Nuggets were the higher seeded team.
"They play with a lot of energy at home," Bryant said. "They're a great home team, not unlike Oklahoma."
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The Lakers went 1-1 in Utah during the regular season and 1-2 in Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.
"It doesn't matter what kind of arena you have, how loud the fans are, what kind of bells and whistles they use, if the team's not good, it doesn't matter," said Fisher who spent the 2006-07 season with the Jazz. "The fact is that the Jazz have had good teams, that's why they've been so good at home over the years."
Jackson said the road crowd isn't quite as bad as it seems.
"There are still Laker fans there," Jackson said. "We have our contingent of fans, so, you can still hear them cheering ... gently."
This and that
Bryant was also named to the All-NBA First Team on Thursday, but received only 119 out of a possible 122 votes from the panel of 122 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada, meaning three voters did not choose Bryant for either the first, second or third teams. "They have their own desires, we just have to let it be," Jackson said about the voting results. Pau Gasol was named to the third team. ... Jackson said Bryant would be used with a mix of bench players again in Game 3 to help fortify the second unit. When asked about how the bench unit did in the fourth quarter of Game 2 after squandering a late lead in the fourth quarter of Game 1, Jackson said, "I think we were all holding our breath there for a little bit."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.