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NBA: Artest standing out

By Kristie Rieken
Associated Press
HOUSTON ó Ron Artest was in the stands again.
This time the punches were replaced by hugs. Instead of throwing beer on him, a fan offered him a sip of one.
Artest has come a long way in the almost 4 1/2 years since the infamous brawl in Detroit that earned him the longest suspension for a fight in NBA history.
In his first year with the Houston Rockets, the former poster boy for everything that was wrong with the NBA has cleaned up his act and image and helped his team to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons.”Well, uh, I’ve been in the stands before,” Artest joked after scoring 27 points to give Houston a series win over Portland.
That brought delighted guffaws from Yao Ming, who noted: “But this time it was home court.”
Once the league’s pariah, Artest has become a fan favorite. Once thought of as a poison, he’s been heralded as a wonderful teammate since arriving in Houston.
“I wanted to soak it in,” Artest said. “I had to sit down. Actually a guy offered me some beer. When he did that I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to sit down and enjoy this. He’s not throwing it at me.’ ”
Houston faces the Los Angeles Lakers tonight in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, and Kobe Bryant missed practice Sunday because of a sore throat.
If anything, it might just mean a little less trash talk between Bryant and Artest. They shoved and jawed their way through a 102-96 Lakers victory on March 11.
“It wasn’t much of a battle,” Bryant said after scoring 37 points that night. “I kicked his (butt) tonight.”

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