What you need to know: The season records and offensive ratings are pretty meaningless with the Kings, they are a different team since Artest joined them. In the last 10 games they are 8-2 (14-7 since Artest arrived) and they are just half-a-game back of Lakers for the seventh seed. They are half a game ahead of New Orleans for the eighth spot.
Want to watch a repeat? Artest or no, the Lakers beat Sacramento handily at Staples last month in one of their best defensive games of the year. Mike Bibby had 25 points but was 9 of 24 from the field, Artest just 6 of 17. Plus, the Lakers had 10 steals. On the other end, Artest did a decent job on Kobe (he still had 36 points and 10 assists) but the key was Odom was driving the lane, finishing with 19 points, a true shooting percentage of 59.4% and was +21. D. George and Cook also had good outing offensively, knocking down open looks.
One good sign from that game was it was one of Kwameâ€™s best of the year, he finished a +23. Heâ€™s going to have to do that again (and start doing it consistently) with Mihm out.
March Madness: Making sure Mike Bibby doesnâ€™t have a throwback game tonight like it is 1997 and he is wearing an Arizona jersey will be a key.
March Madness Hypothetical: Andrew Bynum was committed to go to UConn before entering the draft and playing for the Lakers. Weâ€™ll see how Bynum looks tonight going against an Olympic team invitee in Miller, but can you imagine how good the Huskies would have been with Bynum getting minutes in the paint? Theyâ€™re already the most talented team in the bracket.
The Other K-Mart: Maybe the most overlooked King player this year is Kevin Martin, but along with Artest he has been a key to turning this season around up in the Capital built on a swamp. (Or at least near one.)
Martin is scoring 16.2 points per 40 minutes at an incredible 62.3% true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt). That is the second best TS% in the league. He has become a quintessential efficient shooter and a perfect compliment to Bibby in the backcourt.
What Ron-Ron Means To Me, Part II: From the brilliant Sactown Royalty blog yesterday:
Ron Artest Ron Artest Ron Artest. Everything is Artest. Can you blame us? We were staring at Portland Trailblazerdom in December and January. After two weeks of Artest, we still weren’t lighting the league on fire, but we saw the difference it made. We saw B-52 (Brad Miller) getting nasty. We saw Bibby getting open looks. We saw (gulp) K-9 getting loose inside. Kevin’s already growing confidence screamed to the sky. Francisco immediately became Doug Christie II. Rick Adelman showed signs of a pulse. ARCO seemed like someone pumped a couple of Red Bulls into the foundation. The whole city awoke, and the Kings mattered again.
Big Game, Big Keys: This is about as big as it gets in the race out West, and the Lakers go into ARCO where the Kings have won a dozen in a row.
As much as Kobe would like to redeem himself for a poor shooting night against the Sonics, he needs to get other players the ball early and they need to knock down shots. Odom needs to be aggressive and get in the paint. Do those things and Kobe starts to get better looks and the Lakers score plenty.
But itâ€™s not the offense thatâ€™s in question. The Lakers need a big defensive night from Smush and Kwame (and Sasha and Bynum off the bench). They need to stop the penetration and keep Artest from easy post up shots. Play D like they did last time these two met and they can win, play like it is still the Seattle game and it will be ugly. They should be motivated to play a good game, but who knows with this group.