Things may get testy in this matchup

For Andrew Bynum, it was time to smile.

For Kobe Bryant, it was time to scowl and take a tight-lipped approach with reporters.

The Lakers approached the impending arrival of the Houston Rockets in different ways, though none of them disparaged the team that was 0-4 against them in the regular season. That would be impolite, of course, heading into the series opener Monday at Staples Center.

The Lakers did, however, talk about two key matchups in their Western Conference semifinals -- Bynum against Houston center Yao Ming, and Bryant against whomever the Rockets throw at him (Shane Battier or Ron Artest, in differing doses).

Battier typically guards Bryant, but in a game between the teams in March, Artest employed a trash-talking strategy that surprised and irritated Bryant. It also spurred the Lakers guard to one of his best efforts of the season.

He had 13 points in the third quarter and 18 in the fourth on the way to 37 points as the short-handed Lakers held off the Rockets in Houston, 102-96. Bynum was sidelined because of a knee injury and Lamar Odom was out because of a one-game suspension, but Bryant had six assists, five rebounds, four steals and one cranky disposition.


A few years ago, he begged the Lakers’ front office to trade for Artest. Two months ago, he was offended by Artest’s in-game antics, calling the dialogue “edgy” and scoffing when asked about their one-on-one “battle.”

“It wasn’t much of a battle . . . I kicked his . . .,” Bryant said at the time.

Artest, other than an impressive six steals, had a ragged night, scoring 11 points on four-for-16 shooting.

“We are not friends out there at all,” Artest said after the game. “After the season, we might play pickup games or something like that. Not now.”

More recently, the Lakers beat the Rockets a month ago at Staples Center, 93-81, as Bryant (20 points) and Artest (21) basically canceled each other out.

On Saturday, Bryant gave an interview, if it can be called that, filled with cliches and short sentences that provided little insight, continuing his recent taciturn stance with reporters.

After some prodding, he allowed a passing reference to going up against Artest.

“It’s fun,” he said. “He’s obviously a great defensive player, so I look forward to it.”

Odom, who played AAU basketball with Artest while growing up in New York, spoke more openly about Bryant versus Artest.

“I don’t think Kobe has anything to prove, especially offensively,” Odom said. “Ron is great at working off of intimidation. He’s always been like that. That’s why he’s so good at what he does. That’s why he’s probably the best perimeter one-on-one defensive player in the NBA.

“I think they’re playing a tit-for-tat game, but Kobe is the best. Kobe Bryant is a person that can score 81 points and Ron is a heck of a defender. I can’t wait to see them go at it.”

Others will be interested to see Bynum and Yao go at it.

Bynum averaged only five points, three rebounds and 15.4 minutes against the smaller Utah Jazz frontline. It’s safe to say he’s happy to see a different opponent.

“Yes sir,” he said with a smile. “It’s definitely going to be a fun series. I should be able stay on the court a little bit longer. The matchups are a lot better this time around.”

Bynum practiced with the starting unit Saturday, but Coach Phil Jackson has not officially told him he will be starting Monday.

Bynum, who came in Friday on a day off and had a private workout with assistant coach Kurt Rambis, said he hoped to keep the 7-foot-6 Yao away from the basket.

“Keep him as far out as you can on the block,” Bynum said. “You can’t stop him. He’s got the jump shot and the fadeaway, and you try to keep him shooting that more than easy stuff around the rim.”


The ex-factors

Two former Lakers are on the Rockets’ roster, though guard Von Wafer has been contributing more than forward Brian Cook.

Wafer has been an effective rotation player, averaging 9.7 points and 17.8 minutes in the playoffs. He signed with Houston as a free agent last summer after spending time in Denver and Portland last season.

Cook was acquired from Orlando before the trade deadline but has been buried at the end of the Rockets’ bench. He has played in only two of the Rockets’ six playoff games and scored a total of five points.

Wafer was selected by the Lakers with the 39th selection in 2005. Cook was drafted 24th overall by the Lakers in 2003.


Reserve status

Reserve guard Jordan Farmar did not play a minute in the last two games of the Utah series, but he could get more time against the Rockets, who have small point guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry.

“It’s a different situation,” Jackson said. “Jordan knows some of their personnel.”

Jackson said it would be a “big surprise” if reserve forward Luke Walton played Monday. Walton suffered a partially torn ligament in his left foot April 25 against Utah.


Winter update

Lakers consultant Tex Winter has been moved from a hospital in Manhattan, Kan., to a long-term care facility in Kansas City that specializes in stroke rehabilitation.

Winter, 87, suffered a stroke April 25 while attending a reunion in Kansas.