Ron Artest is rock-solid even as Lakers turn to dust in Game 1

The Lakers slipped and staggered, but their rock was there to keep the game close.

Kobe Bryant wasn't bad, but Ron Artest was the steadying authority in the playoff opener against New Orleans.

That's how strange Sunday was for the Lakers, who lost to the Hornets, 109-100.

Artest had 16 points and 11 rebounds, made all six of his free-throw attempts (!) and seemed to guard everybody on the Hornets' roster at some point, even Chris Paul.

It didn't help the Lakers win, but they lauded Artest, perhaps relieved more than anything by his minor breakthrough after a series of career lows in the regular season (8.5 points and 29.4 minutes a game, 34.1% shooting).

"Ron was probably the best player we had out there [Sunday]," Coach Phil Jackson said. "Kobe had a lot of points but Ron was, I thought, keyed and ready to go and played well."

Artest led the Lakers with nine fourth-quarter points, including a three-pointer after Bryant found him open in the right corner. The two of them combined for exactly half the Lakers' offense.

"We played bad basketball," center Andrew Bynum said. "That's really it. That's what it is. Bad basketball, everybody except Kobe and Ron."

Ringing it in

Jackson is changing up one of his usual routines.

He always slips on a championship ring from a previous season when the playoffs begin, but now plans to take turns wearing all the ones he earned as a player and coach.

On Sunday, he wore the 1973 championship ring he won as a reserve power forward for the New York Knicks.

He'll eventually work up to last season's much larger ring . . . assuming the Lakers play at least a dozen playoff games.

Barnes and Blake?

Matt Barnes had a ragged return after sitting out two games because of a sore right knee. He was scoreless in eight minutes, missing two shots, picking up two fouls and committing a turnover.

Steve Blake might return to practice this week after being diagnosed with chickenpox last week, Jackson said. His availability for Wednesday's game is unclear.

Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.

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