The NBA responded to Metta World Peace’s latest act of aggression with a seven-game suspension that will lighten the Los Angeles Lakers troublemaker’s wallet and playoff schedule.
World Peace was suspended Tuesday for throwing a vicious elbow at Oklahoma City’s James Harden, keeping the Lakers’ starting small forward sidelined for most of the first postseason round.
World Peace was ejected from Sunday’s game against the Thunder for striking Harden in the head with the back of his elbow, giving Oklahoma City’s top reserve a concussion. The former Ron Artest claimed the blow was an accidental, overzealous celebration of a dunk, yet even Kobe Bryant and Lakers teammates weren’t defending his inexplicable actions.
“It’s hard to get into a guy’s head and know exactly what happened in that situation,’’ Bryant said. “I haven’t really spoken to him about it. You’ve really got to ask him.’’
World Peace will miss the Lakers’ season finale Thursday at Sacramento and the Lakers’ next six games. The playoffs open Saturday, and Los Angeles is likely to be the Western Conference’s third seed - and Oklahoma City is locked into the No. 2 seed, meaning the clubs could meet right after World Peace’s suspension ends in the second round.
He will lose nearly $348,000 in salary if he serves the entire suspension this year. If the Lakers exit the playoffs swiftly, the remainder of the suspension must be served next season.
World Peace still hasn’t answered media questions about his actions, but he issued a brief statement on his website, promising to follow up with a podcast.
“I apologize to the Oklahoma City Thunder fans and the OKC organization,’’ World Peace wrote on ronartest.com. “I look foward [sic] to getting back on the floor with my teammates and competing for the Lakers fans.’’
Commissioner David Stern alluded to Artest’s lengthy history of on-court altercations and strange behavior in announcing the penalty in a statement. Although Harden appears to be recovering well, he hasn’t been cleared to return to the Thunder.
“The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they are directed at the head area,’’ Stern said in a statement. “We remain committed to taking necessary measures to protect the safety of NBA players, including the imposition of appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.’’
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team accepted the latest suspension for World Peace.
Hawks 109, Clippers 102 - Joe Johnson scored 28 points, including a wild two-handed heave for a 3-pointer in the final minute, and host Atlanta won to move a step closer to wrapping up home-court in the first round of the playoffs.
Blake Griffin scored a season-high 36 points for the Clippers and Chris Paul added 34 in a back-and-forth game that was never in double figures until the Hawks went on a 15-2 run at the end of the third quarter.
Thunder 118, Kings 110 - Kevin Durant scored 32 points, reserve Daequan Cook had all 19 of his points in the fourth quarter, and host Oklahoma City won its first game since top reserve Harden took the World Peace elbow to the head. DeMarcus Cousins, who was allowed to play only after his 13th technical foul was rescinded earlier in the day, led Sacramento with 32 points.
Jazz 100, Suns 88 - Paul Millsap scored 26 points and Al Jefferson went on a personal 8-0 fourth-quarter run as host Utah secured a Western Conference playoff spot.
Hornets 83, Warriors 81 - Golden State’s Chris Wright was called for goaltending on Marco Belinelli’s layup with 0.7 seconds remaining, lifting New Orleans to a road victory.