Paul Pierce is excited to return to the NBA Finals and his hometown for the next installment of the league's greatest rivalry. Boston's best player isn't exactly thrilled that Los Angeles' welcoming committee includes Ron Artest, a physical, tenacious defender.

"He likes to bang you," Pierce said yesterday, "grab you, hold you, pull your shorts down. He's going to try anything."

The NBA's past two champions will go for another title beginning Thursday night when the Celtics face the Lakers in front of an array of Hollywood stars and, very likely, a large number of Pierce's friends and family who will root against their local team.

Boston's captain cherishes that support, though it comes with a price.

"It's always special just to be a part of the Finals," he said a few hours before the Celtics boarded a plane for their cross-country trip. "To do it in a place where I grew up, it makes it even more special. The only negative thing about it is tickets for me. I mean, it's going to be pretty expensive."

That was a small inconvenience 2 years ago when Pierce won his first NBA title in 10 seasons as the Celtics beat the Lakers in six games. Boston clinched it with a 131-92 win at home for its ninth championship in 11 finals matchups with the Lakers.

But Artest didn't join the Lakers until last July.

Pierce averaged 18.3 points per game in the regular season, and 19.1 over the first three rounds in the postseason. He averaged 24.3 in the Eastern Conference finals against the Orlando Magic, collecting 31 points and 13 rebounds in the clincher.

But he scored just 13 points per game as Boston and Los Angeles split their two-game season series.

"I matched up with him the last 10, 11 years. He's one of the best defenders I've ever played against," Pierce said of Artest. "He'll try anything just to try to get into his opponent's head.''

In Lakers news, center Andrew Bynum's troublesome right knee has been drained of excess fluid. He said he hopes the procedure will allow him to play closer to full strength.


* Orlando center Dwight Howard said he hasn't decided if he will play for USA Basketball at this summer's world championships.

In other Magic news, forward Matt Barnes said he will opt out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent.

* P.J. Carlesimo has an agreement in principle to join the Toronto Raptors as an assistant coach under Jay Triano, reported, citing league sources.

Also, Raptors forward Hedo Turkoglu told a Turkish television station he wants to be traded. Turkoglu signed a 5-year deal with the Raptors last offseason.