Ron Artest’s Head Is Clear. Relatively.

Ron Artest will be back in the lineup tonight. He's been missed.

By Kurt Helin
|  Tuesday, Jan 5, 2010  |  Updated 10:19 AM PDT
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Ron Artest’s Head Is Clear. Relatively.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Ron Artest #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court during the game against the Chicago Bulls on November 19, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 108-93. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Ron Artest is back, his head is clear.

Well, clear may be relative term in this case. But doctors have cleared Ron Artest to play after his concussion on Christmas, something he got falling on the front steps to his own home. (What, you have proof otherwise?) Monday he went through a full practice with contact and is now cleared to play against the Houston Rockets tonight.

His return is needed.

It’s been the little discussed thing about the Lakers this season — they’re a very good defensive team. The offense has been hit and miss, but the defense was the reason the Lakers have the best record in basketball, the reason that “we want tacos” chants ring out at Staples seemingly every game.

Just a few weeks ago, the Lakers were giving up fewer points per possession than any team in the league. Then a few days before Christmas came the slump. Teams have been regularly scoring over 100 points, seeming to get whatever shot they wanted. The Lakers went 2-2 over four games (which for them is a slump) and the wins required Kobe hitting game-wining threes. (At least until Sunday, when the Lakers blew out Dallas.)

The defensive slump started before Artest was injured, but not having him exacerbates the problem. The Lakers lacked the lock down wing defender, and more than that they missed his relentless hustle and energy. The Lakers seemed more lax, something that did not happen often with Artest’s hustle.

The Lakers also missed him on offense. Artest has become one of the more consistent three-point shooters on the Lakers, hitting 36% of his three point shots on the season. Other Lakers have been streaky, but Artest has been consistent in the role of stretching the defense.

Tonight the Lakers will need him against a pesky Rockets team that gives the Lakers trouble — in previous meetings Artest has shut down former Laker Trevor Ariza in this matchup. But more than that, they need the energy, the passion that Artest brings to the court. No matter what condition his head is in.

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