With his gold-tinged hair, Ron Artest looked like the second coming of Dennis Rodman. He also played a lot like the seven-time First Team All-Defenseman, holding Kevin Durant to 7-of-24 shooting and six points under his average. He's the poster boy for the Lakers' new mantra.
In earlier days, the Lakers were seen as pretty boys with players like Sasha Vujacic and Derek Fisher playing matador defense with their limited quickness and trying to take charges. Only Kobe Bryant, who is one of a few players in the NBA that gives their all on both sides of the court, and Trevor Ariza, who was always active on D and created turnovers (1.7 steals per game), played fundamental defense.
The Lakers' playoff opener against Oklahoma City really showed the Lakers could win with defense, not just with the post play of Gasol and Odom or a huge scoring game from Kobe. The addition of Ron Artest gave the Lakers a hard-nosed defender who is experienced and isn't afraid to play dirty sometimes (six technical fouls; 32 career disqualifications).
Even though scoring 79 points is reminiscent of a college game, a hardcore Laker fan could see this kind of game coming. Los Angeles was third in the Western Conference in scoring defense (96.97 points per game), only behind defensive stalwarts San Antonio and Portland.
Artest is a perfect fit to guard Kevin Durant. He's smart and use his body and 260-pound frame to push around the skinnier Durant. RonRon's ability to take bigger small forwards like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Durant will allow Kobe to conserve his energy on the offensive end of the floor.
Another defensive improvement is the solid interior defense of Andrew Bynum. He's aggressive and blocks shots (four today;1.8 on the season), but he gambles less and showed today that he can play straight up and avoid drawing fouls. In the first half, Durant only had two free-throw attempts, but later Artest started being over aggressive and he got to the line more.
Not to rain on the Lake Show's parade, but Los Angeles has one weakness defensively: Derek Fisher. Fisher is a savvy 13-year veteran who has taken many key charges during the playoffs, but he can't keep up with speedy guards like Russell Westbrook (23 points; 10-of-16 shooting from the field).
Westbrook used his quick first gear to score a plethora of runners and layups in the paint. A team like Boston with quick, athletic Rajon Rondo or even Utah in the second round with Deron Williams could exploit Fisher, and these guys could have huge scoring nights and also find open shooters in the corner, like Ray Allen.
All in all, the Lakers have a great defensive advantage with their length and experience. Phil Jackson is undefeated at home in first round playoff games as a No. 1 seed, and with the shot-blocking ability and toughness of the Lakers and a bounce-back game for Kobe Bryant, L.A. should take Game Two at home.