AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Something was different.
This, of course, was the same old Ron Artest, the guy who so often cracked last season in fits of competitive frustration that could hurt the Kings on and off the floor (see locker room rants and horrific shooting nights). But his foot-stomping act not only stopped short of unfolding into a full-on reckless Riverdance, but Artest provided a serious spark in this most-unexpected of wins. A spark, mind you, not a full-on explosion.
The difference? Well, Artest deserves some credit. He certainly appears to have matured in the last year, recognizing his own downfalls and looking to fix them. But as Artest noted, things have changed around him, too.
"That’s why it’s good to have guys like Brad (Miller) and guys like Mikki Moore on the team," Artest said afterward. "If you were the only vet, then nobody can really talk to you. They can’t really justify wrong from right. You’ll think you’re doing something right, and they’ll be like ‘No, that was wrong.’"
Because truth be told, a coach alone can't contain the man (Rick Adelman fed him, handling the situation like he did his offenses - with finesse that led to the sort of success that makes Ron happy). Just ask Eric Musselman, the former Kings coach who - behind the scenes - so often cited Artest's erratic behavior an obstacle he just couldn't overcome. Or Reggie Theus, who continues to work through these sort of issues with a deal-with-it-and-move-on approach that has mostly worked.
There was still some destructive behavior, with Artest breaking off offensive plays at an even higher rate than normal and launching a few ill-advised looks in shooting 5 of 13. But all in all, it went all the way from disaster averted to energy inserted, with Artest and his incredible ability to compete spreading from end to end on the Kings bench. It's a fine line to walk, to be sure, and Artest knows it. Artest said that he had a conversation with Moore earlier this season about fighting that very battle.
"I told Mikki earlier in the season, said ‘Mikki, I got a little emotional today. I’ve got to hold that in,’" he said. "And Mikki said, ‘No, let that (garble) out, and I said ‘Alright.’"
For translation's sake, "garble" was, quite literally, "blu blu blee blee bla bla bla bla." And what he means is the unfiltered moments like the one in the first quarter on Friday night, although there were a few more 'Fs' involved in the garble he spewed at Theus.
Among media folks, the game brought up the age-old question of how many teams will be willing to make a long-term commitment to Artest because of his, shall we say, quirkiness. And while that won't be known for some time, let it be known that - as super-blogger Tom Ziller of sactownroyalty.com pointed out recently - Artest sang Sacramento praises that had to make you wonder if he actually does want to stay in Sacramento. Or, of course, he could be savvy enough to include as many teams as possible in his "potential suitors" file so as to drive up his price. As is always the case with Artest, only the shadow knows.
"The weather’s beautiful in Sacramento," said Artest, who also told the Detroit Free Press he wouldn't rule out becoming a Piston. "The team I’m playing with is good. With Kevin Martin, it's a great opportunity to play with an up and coming star. He’s capable of carrying us to a championship, along with myself and other players also. I’m in a great opportunity right now in Sacramento."
HECKLER'S DELIGHT (AND A HEADACHE)
A morning flight is coming too quick to do this justice, but I officially decided that the hecklers in Detroit are by far the best in the league.
Now honestly, I can't believe I'm saying that. They killed my ear drums, frustrated my senses and had me giving the security guard puppy eyes as a pathetic plea for him to help bring down the decibels.
But that being said, there was some classic humor there. And the best part? The loud-mouthed lady in the front row just so happened to be the glamorous gal who sang that night's National Anthem with so much poise and grace.
Among the best material...
From the black-haired white guy with the gold-chain necklace who I'm told is an attorney (and I hope he doesn't read this because it will only encourage him)
To Ron Artest as he checks in for the first time in the first quarter:
Heckler: "Why aren't you starting Ron? You're not even a starter anymore?"
Ron: "You want me to tell you?"
Heckler: "You're not even a starter!"
Ron: "You won't stop talking so I can tell you!"
The answer never came, but the lady heckler heckled the man for not being harder on Artest, to which he replied, "“Did you see how he beat those people last time?”
Next target: Reggie Theus
"You know, Reggie, you’re wasting your real talents. You’ve got a look, Reggie. You could be famous. You should be an actor."
To the few who cheered for Artest
"By the way, you’re listening to the four women who bought Ron Artest rap albums."
There were so many more. But alas, I did actually have to take notes on the game and not the games outside the game. Bibby clearly heard them all night (and how could you not?), no doubt hearing the one line about how he "should've stayed on the IR (inactive list), and you're on my fantasy team!" Mike had the last word, though, looking their way after the win was over. Of course, the woman just couldn't stop, saying "Enjoy being under .500! You're not going to the playoffs." Just like the home team, she couldn't finish strong. - Sam Amick