Johnny Ludden

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Johnny Ludden is the NBA editor for Yahoo! Sports

  • NBA suspends Artest for Game 3

    LOS ANGELES – The NBA has suspended Ron Artest(notes) for Friday's Game 3 of the Los Angeles Lakers' Western Conference semifinal series with the Dallas Mavericks after the Lakers forward hit Mavericks guard J.J. Barea(notes) in the face Wednesday night.

    The incident occurred in the closing seconds of Game 2 when Artest stalked Barea from across the court and swung his right arm at the Mavs guard, hitting him flush in the face. Artest received his second technical of the game and was immediately ejected.

    The Lakers were expecting the suspension.

    "It was uncalled for," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Artest's foul.

    The league also classified Artest's hit as a flagrant two foul. If Artest receives another two flagrant points in the playoffs – via either a flagrant two foul or two flagrant ones – he will be suspended for another game.

    The suspension further weakens the Lakers as they head to Dallas trailing the Mavericks 2-0 in the series. Only three teams in NBA history have ever

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  • Mavericks push Lakers to the edge

    LOS ANGELES – The Staples Center had already half emptied, the A-listers handing over their valet tickets, everyone streaming toward the exits, little J.J. Barea(notes) dribbling out the final seconds of this improbable victory by the Dallas Mavericks. And here came Ron Artest(notes) looking for blood.

    The NBA handed Artest its citizenship award on this same floor one week ago, not that he has much use for it now. Mr. Citizenship raked his right arm across Barea's head, missing the ball by, oh, 2 feet, and catching all face. Barea crumbled in half and the officials ejected Artest, who barely broke stride, taking the opportunity to beat the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers to the showers.

    This wasn't about sending a message to the Mavericks. This was an act of frustration, a lesser opponent coming unhinged, a champion cracking.

    The Lakers have been pushed to the edge, or to Dallas anyway. They will fly to Texas, down 2-0, having lost twice on their own floor, facing what Derek Fisher

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  • Lakers cough up Game 1 to Mavericks

    LOS ANGELES – The shot left Kobe Bryant's(notes) fingertips, and that was about the time Jason Kidd(notes) glanced away. He had scrambled off a screen to try to get a hand in Bryant's face, only to arrive a step too late. The ball was in the air, the fate of Kidd's Dallas Mavericks resting on its arc toward the basket.

    "I didn't look," Kidd said later. "I was just going to listen to the crowd."

    What Kidd heard is the same painful bleating that's become a familiar refrain to those who frequent the Staples Center this NBA season: Nearly 19,000 fans groaning at once, each of them thinking the same tortured thought:

    Not again.

    By the time Kidd looked up, the ball was harmlessly skipping off the back of the rim, turning this home of champions into a lifeless shell. Make no mistake: The Los Angeles Lakers didn't lose the opening game of the Western Conference semifinal series with the Mavericks because of Bryant's last-second miss … or his botched handoff with Pau Gasol(notes) … or Bryant's

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  • Moment of truth arrives for Nowitzki

    PORTLAND, Ore. – Dirk Nowitzki(notes) shushed the NBA's loudest arena, beating back the Portland Trail Blazers and some of his own playoff demons. No first-round flameout this year. The Dallas Mavericks bent, but didn't break. Nowitzki deserved to appreciate the moment, and yet as he walked off the Rose Garden floor someone was quick to remind him what's waiting next.

    "Beat L.A.!"

    Beat L.A. For Nowitzki and his Mavericks, that's both battle cry and burden. No one will expect much of the Mavs in their series with the Los Angeles Lakers just like no one expected much of them against the Blazers. Nowitzki also knows that doesn't matter. If the Mavericks are ever going to erase the stain of all that postseason failure, they need to do something special.

    Beating the Blazers doesn't qualify.

    Beating the two-time defending champion Lakers would.

    "When I first got to the Mavericks, our big goal was making the playoffs," Nowitzki said. "That goal obviously changed the last couple years. Once

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  • Lakers get charge from Kobe's dunk

    LOS ANGELES – The lane opened, and so did Kobe Bryant's(notes) eyes. In that flash of an instant, Bryant's warped ankle no longer felt stiff. His legs felt alive. He took one hard dribble and exploded up. Emeka Okafor(notes), the New Orleans Hornets center, jumped too.

    Bryant cocked the ball with his right hand as if it were a hammer held above his head, and … well, this did not end gently for Mr. Okafor.

    These are the moments when an NBA season can turn, and Kobe knew as much. This game, this series – maybe even these entire playoffs – became his again. Shannon Brown(notes) would later joke that the last time he had seen such a ferocious dunk, Kobe had an Afro. Brown and the rest of these Los Angeles Lakers saw the fury in Kobe's eyes, and they understood.

    Raise up or sit down, Kobe was telling them. The Lakers' listless season had lurched precariously close to the edge. This quarter, this game – all of it was a referendum. And one violent dunk was all Kobe needed to send his

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  • Bynum helps lift Lakers over Hornets

    LOS ANGELES – For two days, the Los Angeles Lakers went over their game plan. Phil Jackson put the Lakers through a lengthy play-and-pause video session, forcing them to watch and re-watch their mistakes from their opening loss of the postseason. They emerged vowing to play more aggressive and focused. If they were going to square their series with Chris Paul(notes) and these New Orleans Hornets, they'd have to do it with defense.

    It sounded good, too, at least until the Lakers took the floor for Game 2. Then they watched Carl Landry(notes) quickly free himself for an open jump shot. Paul followed by dribbling into the lane and throwing in a floater. Marco Belinelli(notes) pulled up for another short shot.

    "I was getting annoyed," Andrew Bynum(notes) said, and this was the first clear sign of progress.

    Lakers scoring

    Kobe Bryant(notes) accounted for 25% of the Lakers' scoring during the regular season (57-25) but other players stepped up in Game 2 vs. the Hornets.

    Lakers team scoring pie chart

    Source: NBA

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  • Kobe challenges Gasol after Game 1 loss

    LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant(notes) stared at his questioner and nodded. Concerned? Yes, he’s concerned. He’d just watched Chris Paul(notes) dance through his Los Angeles Lakers for 33 points, sending the two-time defending champions to the most unlikely of losses in these playoffs. Nothing the Lakers did during the afternoon suggested they had shaken off the malaise that smothered them the last few weeks of the regular season.

    That switch everyone thought the champs would flip as soon as the postseason started turned out to be only a dimmer. The Lakers couldn’t match the wattage of these wounded New Orleans Hornets. They couldn’t slow Paul, nor could they contain Aaron Gray(notes), a 7-foot backup center whose Wikipedia entry begins with this nugget, for clarity’s sake: “… Not to be confused with the actress, Erin Gray.”

    “I thought Gray outplayed our big guys,” Phil Jackson would later say, and no one asked if he meant Aaron or Erin.

    So, yes, Kobe’s concerned. He took his seat on the

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  • Lakers, Bynum limping into playoffs

    LOS ANGELES – Andrew Bynum(notes) squeezed his right knee, bowed his head, and for the first time in their star-crossed season, the Los Angeles Lakers had a real reason to worry. They can live with a five-game losing streak, with their backup point guard calling in sick with chickenpox, with another important reserve tweaking his own right knee. They've learned to weather the occasional game where Kobe Bryant(notes) shoots too much or Ron Artest(notes) thinks too little. They can even stomach another two months of "Khloe & Lamar" episodes.

    But these Lakers can't win a third straight championship without their young 7-foot center, which is why the sight of Bynum sitting on the court Tuesday night, grimacing in pain, too weak to stand after his knee had buckled, sent a shiver through the NBA's reigning champs.

    "He allows us to be the dominant team we're capable of being," Derek Fisher(notes) said some two hours later in the Lakers' subdued locker room. "So it's hard to think of not

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  • Perkins talks, plays tough against Lakers

    LOS ANGELES – From Kevin Durant(notes) to coach Scott Brooks to general manager Sam Presti, the Oklahoma City Thunder all had one request of Kendrick Perkins(notes): Be yourself. They'd plucked him off the Boston Celtics' roster in the middle of another championship chase, separated him from the only NBA team he'd ever known. And in those first few days when Perkins wasn't sure what to make of everything, the Thunder gave him the best assurance they could.

    We don't want you for what you can become, they said. We want you for what you already are: big and bold, tough as granite, edges rough and sharp.

    And so when someone stuck a recorder in front of Perk a few weeks ago and asked what he thought of the Los Angeles Lakers, he answered not as the Thunder would, but as only a born-and-bred Celtic could. The Lakers are "yesterday's news," he said. Phil Jackson's arrogant. Pau Gasol's(notes) soft.

    "That was my opinion from the past battles that we had in the playoffs," Perkins said. "It

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  • Lakers stand tall as push comes to shove

    LOS ANGELES – There would be no scowl from Kobe Bryant(notes) on this night, only a grin. Wrapped in a black terrycloth robe, his feet soaking in an ice bucket in front of his locker, Bryant wore the look of a proud patriarch. His Los Angeles Lakers had bullied the Dallas Mavericks, and when the Mavs finally came unhinged, resorting to the type of cheap, needless fouls that define a lesser team, the Lakers shoved back.

    By the end of the Lakers' 110-82 victory, Bryant had watched three of his teammates ejected for retaliating – none of them, surprisingly, named Ron Artest(notes). Each had exited the court to a thunderous roar from the Staples Center crowd and a knowing nod from the Lakers' leader. In Bryant's world, this is all that mattered: The Lakers had stood tough and united.

    These aren't the Lakers of last year or two years ago, and they certainly aren't the same skittish group who cowered at the sight of the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals.

    "We have different players now,"

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