The Los Angeles Lakers once again won the Pacific Division title after a close race with their Staples Center co-tenants, at the same time clinching the third seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers rested while the Clippers lost to the Atlanta Hawks; their final game of the season comes on Thursday against the Sacramento Kings. The playoff seedings are almost set.
Of course the biggest story is the suspension of Metta World Peace. After taking a couple of days to review the tape of MWP's hit on James Harden and considering numerous other factors, the NBA handed down a seven-game suspension to begin immediately. That means MWP will miss the Lakers' last game of the season and six games to start the playoffs (assuming the Lakers get that far; wait, of course they will!). The Lakers organization released a statement regarding the incident and its ramifications.
"Metta has for the most part been a model citizen both on and off the court since joining the Lakers. Still, his most recent lapse in judgement is not to be condoned or accepted. His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team as well. While we accept the league’s decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court."
Some think the punishment is just right, some think MWP got off easy, some say should have been banned for the entire playoffs. Others think he should be banned for life. Chris Mannix of SI.com says the Lakers got what they deserved because they knew what they were getting when they signed the former Ron Artest.
It was message-sending time, NBA, and you blew it. World Peace should have been banned for the playoffs, forced to have been held truly accountable for his actions. It would have hurt the Lakers, sure. After a rocky season, World Peace was coming around in April, averaging 14.1 points before the Harden-clocking incident. Now they will have to make do with a combination of Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks, solid players but not World Peace's timber. But L.A. knew what it was getting into when it signed the then-Ron Artest to a five-year, $34 million contract in '09. It knew something like this could happen, and it did.
At any rate, the suspension is in place and there's nothing to be done about it but play on. Harden has not been cleared to resume playing, but he says he's feeling good, which is great news for everyone. The Lakers will be without Matt Barnes in Sacramento as he's nursing a moderately sprained ankle suffered in the second quarter of Sunday's win over the Thunder.
In other news, Billy Hunter has been considered a shady character for a while now, and it appears there was good reason for those thoughts; Derek Fisher says "hell no, I won't go" to the NBPA; Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are neck and neck for this season's scoring title; and Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are now part owners of a horse, of course.