Artest returns to the Toyota Center on Wednesday night, when Los Angeles faces the Rockets for the first time since the teams’ seven-game series in last season’s Western Conference semifinals.
Acquired in a trade with Sacramento prior to 2008-09, Artest averaged 17.1 points and 5.2 rebounds as the Rockets went 53-29 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.
Houston won Game 1 of the West semifinals in Los Angeles, but fell to the Lakers in seven.
“I thought it was a good learning experience for these guys,” Artest said following the Rockets’ 89-70 Game 7 defeat at Staples Center on May 17. “They’ve been through a Game 7. Most young teams get swept. That will really help the Rockets in the future.”
Artest, though, ultimately decided not to be a part of that future by signing a five-year, $33 million deal with the defending champion Lakers.
“This was a long time coming,” he said. “As I started to compete against the Lakers and against Kobe (Bryant), I had respect for him and I always wanted to be a teammate of his.”
Playing their first road game of the season Tuesday, the Lakers (3-1) defeated Oklahoma City 101-98 in overtime.
Artest scored a season-high 20 points, while Andrew Bynum(notes) posted his third double-double of the season with 22 and 10 boards. The star of the night, though, was Bryant, who had 31 points while battling flulike symptoms. The Lakers’ star hit the go-ahead jumper in overtime and a pair of free throws with 18 seconds remaining.
“When Kobe’s out there, he wants it,” Artest said. “That’s the great thing. He wants it. It’s not like I have to really go get it.”
Bryant averaged 28.3 points on 53.0 percent shooting as Los Angeles won all four regular-season matchups versus Houston in 2008-09.
Ariza, who scored 11.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range during the Lakers’ 2008-09 playoff run, signed with Rockets in the offseason to help minimize the loss of Artest.
“I think (Houston is) the best place for me,” Ariza said over the summer. “I think I have more of an opportunity here.”
He’s making the most of that opportunity thus far, averaging a team-high 21.3 points.
Playing without Artest, Yao Ming(notes) - out for the season following foot surgery - and Tracy McGrady(notes) (microsurgery on left knee), the Rockets have won three straight since a 96-87 season-opening loss at Portland.
“When you lose your star players, people don’t expect very much from you but we’ve had the attitude that we’re going to play hard, compete and we’re going to see what we can do with this group,” coach Rick Adelman told the Rockets’ official Web site.
The rookie also rolled his ankle in Monday’s victory, but is expected to be available Wednesday.