L.A. Lakers: Ron Artest Is Still a Great Player When Defense Comes First

Before the All-Star break, most L.A. Lakers fans had to be wondering what in the world was wrong with forward Ron Artest.

Artest's offensive game was as inconsistent as ever, but what was more disturbing was that Artest seemed to have lost some of the defensive skills that made him special.

Speed was never one of Artest's physical gifts, but that flaw was much more apparent as Artest's other physical advantages diminished right before our very eyes.

Since the All-Star break, Artest has regained his former intensity and defensive edge and, ironically, that may be a result of him deciding to shift the focus entirely from his offensive game.

The days of Artest being a crucial offensive component are done; he will likely never have another season when he matches his career scoring average of 15 points per game.

But that doesn't mean that Artest's role is not just as important to the Lakers defensively, and this realization coincided with the Lakers winning 10 out of their 11 games since the All-Star game.

Strangely, Artest's best and worst defensive games of the season came in two losses to the Miami Heat, and each performance tells its own story about Artest's focus this season.

In the Lakers' Christmas Day loss, Heat forward LeBron James made Artest look old and slow, as he repeatedly blew past him off the dribble or pulled up for short jumpers on the threat of penetration.

It was the most helpless defensive performance that I have ever witnessed on Artest's part, but it was in stark contrast to his efforts in the Lakers' more recent 92-88 loss.

In that game, Artest used his strength and his ability to stay close to James, and the results were far different, as Artest's quick hands and aggressive style forced James into one of his worst shooting performances of the season.

The performance was vintage Artest; for a player who the Lakers have stak...

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