The Houston Rockets' offseason acquisition of Ron Artest got mixed reviews -- some applauding the team's ability to get a third proven scorer to complement Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, and others criticizing it for taking a risk on a player with a troubled past.
Two games into Artest's tenure with the team, the Rockets have nothing but good things to say about him.
Artest looks to continue his strong start with his new club as the Rockets try to improve to 3-0 by hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.
Artest is perhaps best known for his role in a brawl with fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills during a game early in 2004-05. He was suspended for the remainder of that season, a total of 73 games -- the league's harshest punishment ever for a fight.
Artest, a 6-foot-7, 246-pound forward who averaged 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 steals for Sacramento last season, has also been arrested for domestic abuse and had a dog seized from his California home because it was malnourished.
Because of Artest's checkered history, it was perceived as a risky move when the Rockets (2-0) traded for him in August. But the team doesn't have any regrets yet, as Artest has been key to its first two wins.
After scoring 16 points in his Rockets debut Wednesday, he had 29 and seven rebounds in Houston's 112-102 victory over Dallas on Thursday night. He also stood up for Yao after the All-Star center caught an elbow from Mavericks forward Josh Howard. Artest got a technical foul for rushing between Yao and Howard, probably more for his reputation than for the act itself.
"Ron's a very good teammate," Yao said. "That happened once in the preseason and he did the same thing. He's trying to help a teammate, sacrificing himself."
Artest didn't make much of the brief incident.
"It happens," Artest said. "No punches thrown, no cursing at the referees. It was a part of the game type of thing. Somebody threw an elbow at Yao and I just reacted. It's nothing to get upset about, nothing to hold a grudge about."
Rockets coach Rick Adelman, who coached Artest with the Kings and was central in bringing him to Houston, wasn't worried about the altercation either.
"Ron was terrific the whole game," he said.
Artest and the Rockets hope to continue their strong start as they meet a Thunder team that was disappointed with its performance in its first game in Oklahoma City since relocating from Seattle in the offseason.
The Thunder (0-1) shot 43.8 percent from the field and committed 20 turnovers in a 98-87 loss to Milwaukee.
"The excitement of opening night, I thought, caused our slow start offensively," coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "We didn't play like we were capable of playing and that is a shame."
Reigning rookie of the year Kevin Durant, a star at the University of Texas before he was selected No. 2 overall in the 2007 draft, was held to 12 points and 5-for-14 shooting from the field in the opener. Overall, Thunder starters totaled 36 points on 14-for-40 shooting.
It could be tough to improve against Houston, which swept four games from the Oklahoma City franchise last season to extend its win streak in the series to seven games. The Thunder shot 40.1 percent against the Rockets in 2007-08.