Lakers call out trash-talking Rocket after LeBron smacked in face, another player pushed to floor

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers is fouled on a play during the second half against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on January 29, 2024 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

After their 135-119 loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday, the Lakers shifted their attention back to the in-game actions of Dillon Brooks, criticizing the Rockets forward for dangerous play that put LeBron James and Jarred Vanderbilt at risk for injury.

Brooks was involved in a pair of incidents that led to Vanderbilt's ejection in the second quarter. He later smacked James in the face on a play under the basket in the fourth quarter. The Lakers felt the incidents should have led to Brooks' ejection; he was only issued a flagrant foul for the hit on James.

In the first incident with Vanderbilt, the Lakers forward was pushed by Brooks while airborne as he went in for a layup. Vanderbilt fell hard on the court, writhing in pain. Brooks was called for a foul after the referees looked at the replay.

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A few plays later, Brooks nudged Vanderbilt in the back going for a rebound on an Austin Reaves basket. Vanderbilt turned and pushed Brooks, picking up his first technical foul. Before play resumed, Vanderbilt poked Brooks in the ear, earning his second technical and the ejection.

The Lakers felt the foul by Brooks played a role in Vanderbilt's reactions.

“I mean, he’s going for a wide-open dunk and he just pushed him in the back. It’s not a safe play,” Anthony Davis, who had 23 points and seven rebounds, said. “Guys get hurt like that. And you got to know what type of player he is. You kind of let that just keep going on and he kind of provoked it. He talks and says whatever he wants to the refs, to players and at the end of the day, we’re men. No man is going to talk towards another man the way he was talking to Vando. So, Vando did what he had to do.”

Several Lakers players said Brooks called Vanderbilt an unsavory name, and they all agreed he crossed a line.

“I feel like he may feel like I did a dirty play,” Brooks told reporters.

James and Brooks have a history dating to when Brooks played for the Memphis Grizzlies. Last year during the Lakers-Grizzlies playoff series, Brooks called James “old” and said, “I don’t respect no one until they come and they give me 40" points.

The two started talking trash in the fourth quarter, and things escalated when Brooks smacked James in the eye, sending him to the court. After referees reviewed the play, Brooks was given a flagrant foul penalty-one.

James, who had 23 points, 10 assists and six rebounds and helped the Lakers claw back to within 10 points after trailing by 30 early in the second half, wasn’t in the mood to talk about Brooks. When he was asked about giving Brooks credit for being competitive, he quickly cut the question off.

“Next question,” James said.

Davis, however, didn’t hold back when asked if Brooks had crossed the line with Vanderbilt and James.

“Yeah, both. I mean, you take a hard foul. That’s part of basketball, but you are just not going to blatantly push someone in their back when they have no control of their body and they are in the air,” Davis said. “And he should have gotten ejected for that. And then you know him and Bron have their whatever and from what I saw it was just a blatant hit to LeBron to his face. So, the refs saw it differently. It is what it is, though.”

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Lakers coach Darvin Ham also stood up for Vanderbilt, saying Brooks was “putting players at risk of injury with certain plays.”

“I just watched it again before I came in here. [Brooks] pushes [Vanderbilt] in the back — guy that's in the air, airborne, defenseless,” Ham said. “Then Bron's play. Bron goes to the basket and it's a double move with his arms. One arm trying to deflect the ball and it goes back and then it goes across his face. So, maybe Dillon Brooks shouldn't have been in the game, either. But it's unfortunate. I salute and my hats off to Vando taking up for his teammate. Taking up for himself and his team. So it is what it is.”

With the Lakers dropping back to .500 at 24-24, James was asked if he would play Tuesday night in Atlanta.

“Yeah, I plan on playing,” James said.

As for Davis, he has been dealing with a groin issue that he said was “a little sore” after the game.

He said that was part of the reason why he didn’t return to play when the Lakers made a late push in the fourth quarter.

“Yeah, I just couldn’t move how I usually move — both ends of the floor,” Davis said.

So will Davis play at Atlanta?

“I don’t know,” he said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.