With the status of both key players in flux, the Western Conference-leading Lakers seek to avenge one of their three home losses Tuesday night when they face the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.
Following Los Angeles’ 102-87 home loss to Cleveland on Christmas Day, Artest tripped over a box and fell down a set of stairs at his home, suffering a concussion and injuring his left elbow. The Lakers (27-6) have allowed an average of 108.6 points during the defensive specialist’s five-game absence.
Artest, though, could return to face his former team after participating in Monday’s entire practice.
“It’s up to (Lakers coach) Phil (Jackson). I’m not sure where Phil’s at,” said Artest, who added that he hasn’t experienced any dizziness in the last three days. “I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I feel good.”
It’s a different story for Gasol, who is doubtful for Tuesday after suffering a mild to moderate left hamstring strain in the first quarter of Sunday’s 131-96 rout of Dallas.
Gasol missed the first 11 games this season - including both previous meetings with Houston - with a strained right hamstring.
If Gasol and his 16.8 points per game are missing, Bryant could be forced to shoulder even more of the scoring load. The league’s leading scorer at 30.2 per game, Bryant aggravated a groin injury in the first quarter of a 101-91 home loss to the Rockets on Nov. 15. He finished with 18 points while shooting 5 of 20.
That defeat was one of only three in 22 home games for the Lakers, who have also lost to the Cavaliers and Mavericks at Staples. Their 19-3 home record is the best in the league. Los Angeles is also the only club to have already played the majority of its home games.
Bryant, who scored 41 in a 103-102 overtime victory in Houston on Nov. 4, needs one more point to pass Patrick Ewing for 15th on the all-time list with 24,816.
Playing in Houston for the first time since signing with the Lakers in the offseason, Artest had 15 points and six rebounds in the Nov. 4 matchup and guarded former Laker Trevor Ariza(notes), who signed with Houston last summer after helping Los Angeles win the championship. Artest and Ariza picked up offsetting technical fouls in that game. During the teams’ meeting at Staples, Artest tossed Ariza’s shoe off the floor after Ariza lost it.
Ariza has not fared well in the two games against his former Los Angeles teammates, scoring 12.0 points per game on 21.2 percent shooting. While Ariza admitted Houston will face a much stiffer challenge - especially in the paint - if Artest and Gasol return, he expects the Rockets to bounce back from Saturday’s 99-95 defeat at New Orleans.
“We’re a good team. We find ways to win,” Ariza said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”
The Lakers’ Lamar Odom(notes) missed Monday’s practice with stomach pain but is expected to play Tuesday. While starting the last five games in place of Artest, Odom has averaged 13.6 points and 12.8 boards.
The Rockets host the Lakers on March 27 in the teams’ final regular-season meeting.