All eyes in Los Angeles and around the NBA will be on Olympic Tower in New York today, wondering how long Metta World Peace will be suspended for after he struck James Harden behind the ear with a vicious elbow that knocked the likely Sixth Man of the Year to the floor for a full minute.
The initial guess here was 2 games, one of which would be a playoff game since the Lakers only have one regular-season game remaining, but I caution you that I tend to guess low. (But was this episode measurably worse than Kevin Love stomping on the head of Luis Scola, which earned him a 2-game ban?)
I did a mini-poll on Twitter yesterday when the offending elbow was still fresh in folks’ heads.
The decision will be made by
NBA commissioner David Stern NBA vice president of operations Stu Jackson, who doles out the discipline when someone has been naughty. It’s anyone’s guess whether the remorse expressed by Artest afterward will mitigate the punishment, especially given World Peace’s prior violent episodes — and the riot act that was read to him by Stern when he was serving his suspension for the infamous brawl at the Palace.
From Greg Beacham of The Associated Press: Metta World Peace was subdued and contrite in the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room, apologizing to Oklahoma City’s James Harden for throwing the elbow that sent them both to the locker room in the second quarter. They both missed a beauty of a game that could echo into the postseason for two division leaders. Kobe Bryant scored six of his 26 points in the second overtime alongside an unorthodox Lakers lineup, and Los Angeles rallied from an 18-point deficit in the second half for a 114-106 victory over the Thunder on Sunday. Pau Gasol had 20 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers, who made an impressive comeback in their regular-season home finale against off-target Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined to miss 42 of their 56 shots. Los Angeles’ rally stunned the Thunder and set an early tone for their possible second-round playoff matchup. ”It’s not so much that we beat Oklahoma, but how we did it,” said Bryant, who shook off his own woeful shooting game with two key 3-pointers late in regulation. ”In the playoffs, particularly if you don’t have home-court advantage, you’re going to have games like this. We have to have the poise and the confidence to just keep chipping away.” Yet everything after halftime was colored by the drama and violence that occurred 1:37 before the break. World Peace had just dunked over Durant and Serge Ibaka on a fast break and was headed back upcourt when he ran into Harden. While pounding his chest with his right arm, World Peace raised his left elbow over Harden’s shoulder and cleanly hit Harden in the back of the skull. Harden dropped to the court and stayed down for about a minute before heading to the locker room. Ibaka and other Thunder players challenged World Peace, but were kept apart, and World Peace was ejected after officials reviewed the tape. ”I got real emotional and excited, and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with the unintentional elbow,” said World Peace, who had scored 12 points and played solid defense on Durant. ”I hope he’s OK. Oklahoma, they’re playing for a championship this year. I apologize to the Thunder and James Harden. It was just unfortunate.”
The Lakers have only one game remaining — Thursday night on the final night of the season at Sacramento. They hold a 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for the Pacific Division lead, and the game will only matter if the Clippers sweep their upcoming road back-to-back Tuesday at Atlanta and Wednesday at New York. If the Lakers and Clippers finish with the same record, the Lakers will win the division by virtue of having taken the season series 2-1.
But how many games will the Lakers have to play without their best defender?
The opinions vary, but here is a particularly strong take from T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: “I broke it to Kobe Bryant after Sunday’s thriller. It’s now Jordan Hill’s team. “Well, he’s got the right first name for it,” says Bryant, yuks all around after a game that would have been remembered for Ron Artest’s vicious assault if it weren’t for such an improbable and stirring victory. Winning cures so many ills and covers up so many problems but unfortunately does not wipe out a suspension that is surely to come with the playoffs about to begin. The Lakers beat Oklahoma City in double overtime as Hill comes off the bench to be discovered here in Hollywood. Some people will probably pronounce the Lakers championship-worthy. But a few hours earlier this same team is nothing but a disappointing mess, too slow and not athletic enough to compete with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Worse yet, a nation watches and they are not likable. Magic Johnson is talking on ABC at halftime about how “disheartening” it is to see players in Lakers uniforms delivering “cheap shots.” I can’t say for sure I heard it correctly, but it sounds as if ABC’s Jon Barry is referring to Artest as Metta Weird Peace — as if anyone would disagree. The Lakers ended last season an embarrassment, Andrew Bynum body-slamming Dallas guard Jose Berea. Now it’s Artest flipping out and delivering an elbow to the head of James Harden. Someone goes vicious on someone else like that and they usually hear police sirens as they run away from a fallen victim. Artest just ran away. Artest will be suspended, the best guess for four or five games. But why not make it for the playoffs and send him home until next season? There is no place in society or sports for such behavior. Artest wasn’t mad at Harden; probably didn’t even know it was Harden. But he was expressing himself as selfish players do, dunking on the Thunder and beating his chest to let everyone know what they had just witnessed. When he felt someone sharing his stage, he delivered a blow that upon replay looked like something that would send most people to a hospital. It had to make you cringe. He showed no remorse on the court, later calling the elbow “unintentional.” Of course, jails are full of people who lost control for just an instant and didn’t mean to do what they did. As Artest made his way off the court after being ejected, Lakers fans showered him with cheers. They should have been ejected as well.”
The Lakers-Thunder game was certainly the most entertaining game of the day Sunday, but the one that preceded it — Knicks-Hawks — was a darn good watch, too.
New York defeated Atlanta 113-112 on the road behind 39 points from Carmelo Anthony, meaning the Knicks still have a chance to move up to sixth place in the conference if they win their final two games and the Orlando Magic continue to look like an abomination. Then again, one of the Magic’s remaining games is against the Bobcats, losers of 20 in a row, and Orlando would have to lose that one, too, in order to drop to seventh.
But with the way they played Sunday in a 101-74 loss at Denver, you never know.
From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “It was obvious that the Orlando Magic would have trouble against the Denver Nuggets well before JaVale McGee turned Sunday night’s game into his own personal dunking exhibition. Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark could not play because of injuries, and the night before, the Magic suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss in Salt Lake City. Then, less than two minutes into Sunday’s game, Jameer Nelson went down with what a team spokesman called a left-calf contusion. But did anyone expect this much trouble? The Nuggets took control in the third quarter and cruised to an easy 101-74 win. The Magic wilted for the first time since the night of April 13, when it was announced publicly that Howard had a herniated disk in his lower back. “I don’t think it had anything to do with running out of gas,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said, clearly disgusted. “Four times a guy [McGee] is gonna to start up to set up a pick and back-cut for a lob? That’s absurd. We ran out of focus. We ran out of competitiveness. That’s what we ran out of.’’ The Nuggets outscored the Magic 29-18 in the third quarter. The fourth quarter was worse.”
In Atlanta, Anthony was 14-for-32 as the only New York starter to shoot under 50 percent. Coach Mike Woodson gave Tyson Chandler the day off after New York played seven games in 11 days. (The Knicks have allowed 116.3 points in three games without Chandler, and 93.8 when he plays.) The Hawks took their final lead, 112-111, on Joe Johnson’s 3-pointer with 1:50 left. Anthony countered with a jumper 10 seconds later to close the scoring when he was left open on the right wing. On the final play of the game, Johnson inbounded to Marvin Williams near the Knicks’ bench. Williams turned and beat Amare Stoudemire down the lane only to find both he and Anthony contesting at the rim, and the buzzer sounded before Williams released a dunk attempt that missed. ”I felt like I got fouled at the end,” Williams said, “but they didn’t call it.”
Elsewhere in the NBA:
- Chris Paul had 33 points and 13 assists, Randy Foye made three of his six 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and the Clippers rallied for a 107-98 victory over New Orleans. Foye scored 24 points, and Blake Griffin had 21 points and 15 rebounds in the Clippers’ 40th victory — their most since the 2006-07 team won that many. “We got to keep fighting,” Paul said. “We got to win one more to lock up home court.”
- With Tim Duncan getting a night off, Manu Ginobili scored 20 points to lead San Antonio to its seventh straight victory, 114-98 over Cleveland. San Antonio (47-16) moved 1½ games ahead of Oklahoma City in the race for the best record in the Western Conference. A victory in any of their final three games would secure the top spot in the West for the Spurs, who own the tiebreaker over the Thunder.
- LeBron James had 32 points and eight rebounds, and the Miami Heat pulled away by outscoring the Rockets 31-19 in the fourth quarter to defeat Houston 97-88 and eliminate the Rockets from postseason contention. The Heat played without Dwyane Wade (dislocated left index finger), Chris Bosh (leg muscle fatigue) and Mario Chalmers (flu-like symptoms).
- Sacramento defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 114-88 behind a dominant effort from DeMarcus Cousins who had 29 points and 10 rebounds. It was Charlotte’s franchise-record 20th straight loss. The Kings had lost nine of their previous 10 games, but this one was never in doubt as they scored 78 points inside the paint and led by 35 in the fourth quarter.
- Charles Jenkins had 24 points and nine assists to rally the Golden State Warriors from a 21-point deficit to beat the Timberwolves 93-88, snapping an eight-game losing streak.
- Ben Gordon’s 3-pointer with less than 3 minutes to play broke a 68-all tie, and he added four free throws to lead Detroit over Toronto 76-73.