Saturday night's brawl between the Nuggets and Knicks could have been diffused a number of times. It wouldn't have escalated to melee status had cooler heads prevailed, which starts at the top with Isiah Thomas.
Infuriated that George Karl had left in his starters in an attempt to embarrass his Knicks, Thomas encouraged the hard foul that ultimately started the entire incident. It was the tribe mentality of "not in our house" at its most blatant.
|Isiah Thomas is supposed to be in charge of the Knicks, so blame for the brawl ultimately falls on him. (Getty Images)|
What Thomas failed to realize is that while Karl could have called off the dogs with less than two minutes remaining in a blowout, it's his prerogative not to. Was he sending Zeke a message, paying him back for Larry Brown? Sure. That Carolina connection runs deep.
But Karl made his statement within the rules of the game. His team bullied the Knicks, who should be more embarrassed by their consistently awful play at home than by J.R. Smith cruising for another meaningless two points.
You don't want your noses rubbed in it? Don't put yourself in that position. New York owns the NBA's worst home record entering the week (4-10) and has soiled the reputation of Madison Square Garden as a difficult place to play. Now, it's simply become the place where opposing stars can come get their shine on.
That's what Carmelo Anthony was doing Saturday night, racking up another 30-plus-point performance to help increase his lead in the scoring race (he'll miss 15 games of it following Monday's suspension) and infuriating Thomas in the process. It has been reported by numerous outlets that Thomas warned Anthony against taking it to the rim late in the game, and video replays appear to confirm his statement, catching him saying, "Don't go to the basket right now. It wouldn't be nice."
Had that drawn any kind of suspension from the NBA, it would have set a precedent; no coach has ever been suspended for instigating a fight. That he wasn't punished doesn't validate his actions.
Coaches tell their teams to protect the basket and allow no easy ones as a staple of the game. It's not dirty, simply physical. Thomas had every right to instruct his players not to allow anything easy going to the rim in the same way that Karl had every right to keep his starters in.
Where Thomas crossed the line was in his veiled threat to Anthony. What is he doing out there warning players when he can't even coach his own team? This incident, another embarrassment to a Knicks franchise that seems to find ways to reach new lows as if it's some form of hobby, should be the final strike against Thomas.
I know team owner James Dolan said just last week that his coach would have all season to show sufficient progress to keep his job, but that opportunity should be pulled out from under him after this deal breaker.
Isiah Thomas, NBA legend and upstanding head coach, behaved like a punk Saturday night. Members of both teams then went out and followed his example.
It has gotten to the point where you have to hide the women and children when the Knicks are playing basketball since the quality of play is so bad, but Thomas pulled the team down with him to a whole new level Saturday night.
And to think, among many warped minds around the Knicks, the idea is floating around that this adversity will help pull the team together. Wonder where they get that from? It's tough to play "us vs. them" when "them" consistently walks in your house and wins.
Among New York's next five games, four will come at MSG, and you can bet the Jazz, Bulls and Pistons will all be road favorites.
What's next? If you can't beat 'em, foul 'em?
|Monday||Dallas at Sacramento|
|Tuesday||L.A. Lakers at Chicago|
|Wednesday||Cleveland at New Jersey|
|Wednesday||Phoenix at Denver|
|Thursday||Detroit at Cleveland|
|Friday||L.A. Lakers at New Jersey|
|Friday||Houston at San Antonio|
|Friday||L.A. Clippers at Dallas|
|Saturday||Orlando at Cleveland|
|Saturday||L.A. Clippers at Houston|
Team of the week
Boston might still be chasing Allen Iverson behind the scenes, but at the surface, the Celtics have come together just fine without him. Their five-game winning streak tops all Eastern Conference teams and should continue, because Golden State and Philadelphia arrive in Beantown this week. Those two had combined to lose 13 consecutive games through Sunday.
As is to be expected when the Celtics play well, Paul Pierce has led the way. Boston's captain is putting together another All-Star season, and has averaged 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists during the streak. Other Celtics playing exceptionally well include Tony Allen, who has become an invaluable part of Doc Rivers' rotation as a surprise starter in place of Wally Szczerbiak, and Al Jefferson, who has responded to increased opportunities inside. With Kendrick Perkins still out, Jefferson has moved over to center, averaging 19.8 points and 11.8 rebounds during the streak.
Team on a streak
Haven't forgotten about you, Phoenix. The Suns will look to set a franchise record for most consecutive victories when they play at home against Toronto on Tuesday.
The Raptors are being careful with Chris Bosh's knee and will likely walk into US Airways Center shorthanded. Toronto GM Bryan Colangelo is modeling his Raptors after this same Suns squad he helped construct but is barely in the formative stages of the project.
Phoenix, meanwhile, is operating like a well-oiled machine, dismantling teams with their fast-paced style and mixing in more defense than we're used to seeing now that Amare Stoudemire is back to feeling healthy.
"I would say that playing the way we are now, we wouldn't lose the games we lost early," Mike D'Antoni told the East Valley Tribune. "The Lakers, Utah, the Spurs ... we had those games won even when we were struggling. We let them slip away, or else we'd be 20-3 right now."
Team of the weak
What's up with the Clippers? Seems like that has been the sentiment all season, and it becomes even more magnified this week. After playing host to the Raptors on Wednesday, L.A. takes its league-worst 1-8 road record to Houston, Dallas and Utah. Unless they find a way to get on track, the Clips are in danger of digging themselves a hole they'll find it hard to crawl out of in the loaded West.
Player to watch
Pau Gasol is back in the starting lineup for the slumping Grizzlies, who failed to stay out of the NBA's basement without him. The Spaniard is still shaking off the rust that developed as he rehabilitated his broken left foot and feels he's not moving around as quickly as he normally does. He grabbed just five rebounds in his first two games back and faces a busy four-game week loaded with travel that won't allow him to simply ease back in. Neither will Tim Duncan or Carlos Boozer, two of the guys he'll be lining up against.
Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade became fast friends in Japan this summer and were to duel for the second time this season when the Hornets visited the Heat on Monday night. Among young playmakers, these two reign supreme.
Tuesday, T.J. Ford will use his speed to try and hang with Steve Nash's savvy in a fast-paced game likely to produce around 250 combined points.
Other early Christmas presents from the league schedule makers feature LeBron James against Vince Carter on Wednesday, Yao Ming going at Tim Duncan on Friday, and Kevin Garnett squaring off with Jermaine O'Neal on Saturday night.