The Lakers will be missing two frontcourt starters when they take on the Nets. (Harry How/Getty Images)
On Monday, I wrote that I suspected the NBA's disciplinary czars would take a second look at the maybe-possibly-kind-of-sort-of punch thrown by Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace to the chin of Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight on Sunday, but that I wasn't sure whether the video would prove conclusive enough to actually punish World Peace. Well, as we learned Tuesday morning, it did. From the NBA's release on the incident, via the Lakers' official website:
Metta World Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers has been suspended one game without pay for grabbing Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons around the neck and striking him in the jaw, it was announced today by Stu Jackson, NBA Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.
The incident occurred with 1:43 remaining in the 2nd period, of the Lakers’ 98-97 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, Feb. 3 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
World Peace will serve his suspension tonight when the Lakers visit the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.
The play again, in case you missed it the first time around:
As if that news wasn't bad enough, Lakers fans were dealt another blow right around the same time as the league made its announcement, as center Dwight Howard — who's missed the last two games with a right shoulder injury suffered during last Wednesday's loss to the Phoenix Suns — declared himself out for L.A.'s Tuesday night visit to the Barclays Center, too.
An MRI following the Lakers' Jan. 6 loss to the Denver Nuggets revealed a torn labrum in Howard's right shoulder; he missed the team's next three games, all losses, before returning for the team's Jan. 13 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 10 games back with the team, the All-Star pivot vacillated between stellar and ineffective, much as he has all season, averaging just under 14 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes per game.
A foul by Phoenix guard Shannon Brown reaggravated the injury midway through the fourth quarter last Wednesday; he's missed the last two games, both Laker wins, with fellow big man Pau Gasol looking like the fire of old in increased minutes at the center position (45 total points and 22 rebounds on 54.5 percent shooting).
On Sunday, Lakers star Kobe Bryant said Howard would "have to make [an evaluation] with the training staff" as to whether it made sense to try to play through the shoulder injury: "If it’s an injury like a stinger but it won’t get worse, play through it. If the pain is going to be there for a day or two, play through it. If it’s going to threaten your career or threaten your season, chill out." On Tuesday, Howard opted for the latter, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
Even though he categorized his aggravated right shoulder as “improving,” Dwight Howard said he won’t return when the Lakers play tonight against the Brooklyn Nets [...] He also wouldn’t say whether he would play Thursday when the Lakers visit the Boston Celtics.
“I’m not in any rush,” Howard said after sitting out of the team’s morning shootaround at New York Athletic Club. “I don’t want to reinjure it. I want to make sure it heals up.” [...]
“It’s my career,” Howard said. “There’s no need for me to prove anything to anyone.”
It's a reasonable take, especially for a 27-year-old in a contract year. It's just unfortunate timing, as the coincidence of Howard's shoulder injury and World Peace's suspension leave a Lakers front line that's already missing reserve big Jordan Hill (out for the season with a hip injury) looking awful thin ahead of a matchup with a tough Nets frontcourt featuring All-Star Brook Lopez, the resurgent Andray Blatche, and glass-eaters Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries.
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Howard's decision to sit out Tuesday followed an interview with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith in which the center, a little more than nine months after undergoing surgery, proclaimed his surgically repaired lower back "75 percent" of the way back to health and offered remarks that made it seem like those remaining 25 percent might be some time in coming, according to a transcription by Silver Screen and Roll's Drew Garrison:
"Even sitting down in this chair right now is causing my legs to go numb. Just having this tingly sensation go all the way down my legs. That happens when I'm playing, that happens when I'm just sitting on the bench for a couple minutes, and it's not easy."
Not what any Lakers fan wants to hear, especially with the Lakers still four games under .500, 3 1/2 games out of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, and midway through their seven-game Grammy road trip. When it rains, it pours, even in sunny Southern California.
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