You know how these headlines go. You know what the flip summation will be on cable tonight. Ron Artest swears he's playing better in the playoffs, through two whole games, because he's practicing less.
OK. Why put it past him?
Yes, Artest's points per game (15.5, up from 8.5 in the regular season) and shooting percentage (45.5, up from just below 40 percent in 2010-11) have vaulted way higher in his Lakers' opening-round series against New Orleans, but to completely credit just two games' worth of work to a whole new regime that, on the surface, looks like he's practicing less? While leering at the idea of easier off days to come?
Good. Believe the man.
Because he's not really talking about practice. I mean, we're talking about practice, but Ron's talking about extra jumpers and obsessive training-room workouts. Those aren't always the best things to take in during the regular season when actual practice time is limited and you have upward of a 100 games to work through if you count yourself as a championship contender. There are legs to consider.
Mark Medina from the Los Angeles Times had the original scoop from Ron-Ron:
There were countless practices this season during which he stayed in the gym when no one was there, putting up shots. Although that approach definitely discredited any notion that he wasn't as hungry as last year for a championship ring, the activity didn't really equate to achievement. He continued to appear lost in the offense, uncomfortable with a diminished role because of Matt Barnes, and his offseason effort in slimming down to 250 pounds to guard speedy scorers came with mixed results.
"I know I'm getting older, so I'm trying to conserve energy," Artest said. "You want to come in shape obviously. But when you play in the games during the season, you'll get in shape. The game will take care of itself and your conditioning if you play hard."
Just don't ask Artest to provide specifics on the degree to which he's scaled back. "If I write it down, I'd remember. But I don't write it."
The next obvious question would be to look across the locker room at Lakers coach Phil Jackson. If lifting weights and firing up endless jumpers was hurting Ron's play during the regular season, then why didn't Jackson step in to say anything about it?
Well, despite his unorthodox ways with his various squads, and surprises that sometimes pull his group's bus away from the gym and toward a team-building exercise, Jackson is a slave to the routine. Not his own routine, mind you, but the individual routine of each of his players. It's why he doesn't complain much when players are a little late to practice, or when Kobe Bryant sits out of nearly every practice -- an absolute necessity for Bryant, otherwise his knees would disintegrate -- at the expense of a fluid offense, or when players go over the top with their workouts.
Like Kobe, in the summer or even after close games in the regular season, firing up endless jumpers. Or Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper meeting in the morning to lift weights even in a season that sees them dragging by May. Or Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest heading back to the weight room after a game to stack up the scales. Jackson trusts his players, for better or worse. That's not a cliché -- sometimes it goes both ways.
And if Artest is working out endlessly during the regular season because it will exorcise (no pun nor flippancy intended) his various demons? Then Jackson will support it. And if he wants to take it easy towards the end of the season so that he has the legs for all those long jumpers? Then Jackson, perhaps more enthusiastically this time, will support it.
At the end of the day, it's Ron Artest. You don't have to worry about this guy developing much of a beer belly anytime soon.
- Ron Artest