Just when it looked like the NBA was going to have a monopoly in the sports world after the NFL Playoffs were over, the NHL announced that there was, in fact, probably, going to be a shortened hockey season.
No matter, basketball proved that it will survive despite the new competition by giving fans a week filled with almost soap opera levels of drama, conflict and, yes, even romance. So without further ado, here's what happened last on "As The NBA Turns..."
Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett got heated
The key moment in one of the biggest rivalries of the NBA season may just have happened off the court. Following the Boston Celtics 102-96 defeat of the New York Knicks on Monday night, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony got into a confrontation with the Celtics' Kevin Garnett at Madison Square Garden. Late in the game, Anthony and Garnett both received technical fouls following a series of thrown elbows and harsh words. After the game, Anthony approached the Celtics locker room and began shouting, presumably going after Garnett. At some point this spilled out into the streets as Anthony waited by the Celtics bus, hoping to, in his words, have a "conversation" about what went on during the game. Nothing physical happened, but security officials and policemen were called to the scene.
Now, in a sport where trash-talking is not only encouraged but almost written into the rules of the game, KG has a longtime history as the league's most notorious trash-talker, his self-appointed role on the floor is part insult comic and part internet troll. Perhaps most notably, Garnett once goaded Detroit Piston Charlie Villanueva by calling him a "cancer patient". After the incident went public, Garnett attempted to quiet the controversy by claiming that what he really said was "You are cancerous to your team and our league" which is believable only if you think the NBA takes place in a Victorian novel.
So, KG being KG, few doubt that he said something beyond the pale to Anthony. The current rumor making the rounds is that Garnett told Anthony that his "wife tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios", in what's either one of the more tastelessly personal examples of on-court trash talking or the worst viral marketing campaign in cereal advertising history. If Garnett said this, or something as equally upsetting, it's understandable why Carmelo Anthony would be angry, but the incident still doesn't reflect well on him. Anthony let Garnett goad him to the point where he was, in essence, waiting for him after class like a high school kid waiting around trying to get a shot at a bully after school.
Ultimately, Anthony did not just lose on the court on Monday, he also lost when he let Garnett get to him. It's not the most admirable of tactics, but KG's trash talk serves a psychological purpose, he wants to get inside his opponents' heads. The New York Knicks, having their best season in well over a decade, rely heavily on 'Melo not only as a scorer but now as a leader. This incident reignites questions about Anthony's maturity level at exactly the point the Knicks were hoping that they no longer had to deal with questions about their "realness". Knicks head coach Mike Woodson had this to say about Anthony: "He just can't have slippage like that... Guys have to be more professional about their approach."
The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, have been playing better despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that they have been playing with more of an edge. Point guard Rajon Rondo who had been suspended earlier this season after fighting the Brooklyn Nets' Kris Humphries, was suspended again before the game Monday night. This time, Rondo had bumped an official during a game against the Atlanta Hawks, a fact that was apparently pointed out by GM Danny Ferry, who was then fined $15,000 by the league for "inappropriate interactions with game officials" for his efforts (in other words the NBA asked him to "stop snitchin'"). Clearly this is a team that is gaining a reputation for getting into opponents' heads.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers seemed to reference the Ferry incident when he issued a very pointed non-denial about the Garnett/Anthony encounter:
"I'm gonna let y'all figure that one out. I'm going to stay out of that. If it was the playoffs, I'd tell on him, but since it's not, I'm going to just be quiet."
If Rivers seems to be a tad upbeat for a coach taking questions on possible misconduct by his key players, it's probably because the Celtics are starting to put together wins against serious opponents after they struggled to start off the season. Rivers will gladly accept the headaches of having to defend his players to the press if the upshot is that the team might finally start becoming a serious threat in the Eastern Conference.
The Los Angeles Lakers are starting to run out of bodies
Before the details of the Kevin Garnett/Carmelo Anthony confrontation leaked the "fight" that got people around basketball buzzing was entirely staged. After rumors circulated about tension between Kobe Bryant and teammate Dwight Howard following a Los Angeles Lakers loss to Philadelphia, Bryant responded on his brand new Twitter account. He posted a picture featuring Kobe and Dwight in a mock fight with the caption "The mamba vs d12 !! It's on lol".
If there's any team glad for the Anthony/Garnett confrontation, it would have to be the reeling Los Angeles Lakers, who have had enough media attention for all the wrong reasons of late. They will be glad to have someone else dominate the opening of "SportsCenter" for a bit. Unfortunately, any hope that the Lakers could get back to playing championship-caliber basketball during a lull in media coverage took a big hit with the announcement that both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol would both be out indefinitely.
Dwight Howard had one of his best games as a Laker on Sunday when he collected a career-high tying 26 rebounds in a loss to the Denver Nuggets, but it turns out he was playing hurt. Howard suffered what is believed to be a torn labrum on his right shoulder during Friday's loss to the Clippers, a loss that already was something of a season low for the struggling Lakers. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol is out indefinitely with a concussion. Gasol's "indefinitely" should be a lot shorter than Howard's, maybe just a few days, but it still hurts a team that's still trying to figure out whether they would play better with Gasol or would be better off trading him away.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni has been trying his best to make the best out of a difficult situation, saying this about having to play second-year guard Darius Morris more often:
"In New York, Amar'e and Melo went down and then 'Linsanity' happened, so, who knows? It might be 'Morrisanity' next week."
At first, it sounds like D'Antoni is grasping for straws here - was there any basketball phenomenon less repeatable or predictable than Linsanity - but at this point why wouldn't D'Antoni welcome a chance to experiment? This current group of Lakers simply have not been able to figure out how to play together, there are already those who have given up on the Kobe/Dwight/Gasol/Steve Nash lineup. The injuries to Howard and Gasol give new coach D'Antoni an opportunity to experiment with team chemistry that he would not have been able to pull off if the entire team were healthy.
If this all seems like the Lakers are going into "so crazy it might just work" mode, well, there may be some truth to that. After all, in the same conversation, D'Antoni mentioned that the Lakers would have to rely more on Metta World Peace, possibly even playing him at center. So, yeah, so crazy it might just work sounds about right.
The Milwaukee Bucks part ways with Scott Skiles
The NBA produced its third coaching casualty of the young season on Monday night, as the Milwaukee Bucks parted ways with head coach Scott Skiles. The move was a bit surprising because the Bucks, despite having lost their last four games, have not been dramatically underperforming this season. Although currently hovering at .500, the Bucks currently are in the playoff mix in the wide open Eastern Conference.
As it turns out, unlike the previous coaching changes in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, Skiles, who has been Milwaukee's coach since 2008, may not have been fired. A defensive minded coach, Skiles was attempting to coach a lineup filled with offense-first players like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. According to reports, these difficulties, made both the team and coach realize that Skiles was not the right fit for their current roster. Normally in the NBA a "mutual decision" is a code word for "fired", the equivalent of bands splitting up over "artistic disagreements", but this might have been one of the rare occasions where the decision was actually mutual.
With Skiles gone, the Bucks have tapped assistant coach Jim Boylan, who may be something greater than just an "interim" head coach. The Bucks have been more insistent than most teams in saying that the job is Boylan's for the rest of the season. So wait, the Bucks maybe aren't lying about the reasons they let go of their head coach and aren't interested in embarking on a lengthy coaching search that will allow the media to wildly speculate about Phil Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy? Man, Milwaukee just takes all the fun out of these things.
Phil Jackson pops the question
Phil Jackson has gotten most of his attention from acquiring rings, so it was a bit of a change last week when he made news by giving away one. Apparently around Christmas Phil Jackson proposed to long-time girlfriend Jeanie Buss, who confirmed it a few weeks later by tweeting out a a picture of her engagement ring. Jeanie is, of course, daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, which considering the recent coaching decisions made by the organization, may mean that Phil Jackson, if old fashioned enough, had to make one of the more awkward "calling for parental approval" calls in engagement history:
Phil Jackson: Hello Mr. Buss, this is Phil...
Jerry Buss: (Sighs.) Okay Phil, despite our recent setbacks, we do not regret the decision we made as far as head coach-
Phil Jackson: This isn't about that, Mr. Buss, I just need your approval for something.
Jerry Buss: Oh no. This isn't another book is it?
Phil Jackson: No, no... I want to propose to your daughter.
Jerry Buss: (Silence.)
Phil Jackson: Mr. Buss? Do you have any objections? I mean we've been together for over a decade so I think we'll do pretty okay.
Jerry Buss: What if you take another coaching gig? Wouldn't you have the advantage of knowing this organization's secrets.
Phil Jackson: Since when have the Lakers ever managed to keep any secrets?
Jerry Buss: This is true. (Pause.) Listen, I know the wedding could get awkward, what with everything that's gone down between you and the organization this season, but I was thinking maybe to patch things up you could get Jim to be your best man? He's gonna be your brother-in-law after all.
Phil Jackson: Actually, I've decided to go with Mike D'Antoni instead. I just thought it would be the best fit.
Other things we've learned
• The Washington Wizards won their fifth game of the season when rookie Bradley Beal hit a dramatic game winner against the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the best teams in the Western Conference. This more makes up for that whole Robert Griffin III thing, right D.C.?
• Before the season began, it looked like the Minnesota Timberwolves had a real shot of making a playoff push if their key starters could remain healthy. Unfortunately, it's looking like injuries will keep that scenario an entirely hypothetical one as forward Kevin Love is dealing with a broken right hand and will be out for a few more weeks. Minnesota is one Ricky Rubio injury away from having to figure out what they've done to offend the Basketball Gods.
• Win or lose, owner Mark Cuban keeps the Dallas Mavericks in the news. This week, Mark Cuban again lashed out against his arch-enemies, no not any rival teams in the Western Conference, but NBA officials. After a loss on Saturday to the New Orleans Hornets, Cuban tweeted out "Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 yrs to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably". For a while the NBA failed to respond to Cuban's obvious baiting, but late on Tuesday it was announced that the NBA had fined Cuban $50,000 for his comments. There's no word yet on if Cuban goes off on another rant whether or not NBA Commissioner David Stern will wait outside the Mavericks team bus for him.
• Of course Cuban could just be trying to deflect attention from comments made by franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki. A frustrated Nowitzki pointed out, rightfully, that the Mavericks recent plans have been somewhat faith-based in their attempts to land big name free agents, and that "you don't want to build your franchise on hope". Hopefully this doesn't lead to a falling out between Cuban and Nowitzki, but if so, I know exactly the guy who knows a thing or two about how reunification comes about.
• The injury of the week occurred when San Antonio Spurs' Stephen Jackson had to leave a game against the New York Knicks after spraining his right ankle by crashing into a waitress serving New York major Michael Bloomberg. No word on whether "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Larry David will sue Bloomberg for intellectual theft:
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