Without The Real Mamba, Artest Is King Of The Jungle

LAS VEGAS -- What if I told you Ron Artest couldn’t win or place in the most-unpredictable-person-in-the-building contest? Would it make more sense if I added the fact Mike Tyson and Flavor Flav were in the Thomas & Mack Center for Wednesday’s preseason game between the Kings and Lakers?

What if I asked you to digest the idea of Ron Artest being a stabilizing force on the Lakers? Because that’s what’s happening, and might need to continue to happen as long as Kobe Bryant can’t play like Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, still not elevating or exploding like his old self while he works his way back from off-season knee surgery, missed eight of 10 shots in the game and is now 4-for-28 in the preseason. Artest, meanwhile, made 7 of 11 shots, including four of five three-pointers, and matched Pau Gasol for a team-high 18 points.

We’ve seen Artest fill in for Bryant before, most notably when he produced 20 points in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to cover for Bryant’s 6-for-24 shooting. Artest tried out a new role Wednesday, serving as a relative authority on the triangle offense while in the lineup with newcomers Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff.

“It felt weird; I was telling them what to do,” said Artest, who struggled to find his way in the offense last season.

“There’s some new stuff that I still don’t know. But things that I do know I can probably tell them: ‘Go ahead, go to this spot.’”

Phil Jackson isn’t ready to give Artest his degree in triangology yet, and said he only included Artest in that group because of his hot shooting. He did give Artest a mild compliment, saying, “He’s going to find his way out there, but he’s still searching a little bit. He’s much better.”

If Bryant’s not up to speed when the regular season begins Oct. 26 Jackson wants Pau Gasol to be the main focus. The problem is, “He’s still on vacation,” Jackson said, pointing out Gasol’s missed layups and free throws in Wednesday’s closer-than-necessary victory over the Kings.

Jackson shouldn’t count out Artest. Artest proved himself under the greatest of duress in Game 7. He seems ready for the new season. And unlike Tyson, who told a Lakers sideline reporter that he owns five tigers, Artest can claim, “I don’t own a tiger.” We all can sleep a little easier now.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t into tigers.

“You ever go on YouTube, you check out when the tigers fight the lions and anacondas and stuff?” Artest said. “You never seen that? You’ve got to go on YouTube, type tiger vs. anaconda, tiger vs. bear, rhino vs. elephant. It’s crazy.”

I couldn’t find tiger vs. anaconda, but I did find a jaguar vs. anaconda. And here’s tiger vs. bear and rhino vs. elephant. That Ron Artest is useful. I’m telling you.