Mike Monroe: Sixth-seed race huge in absence of Peace

There are Western Conference playoff implications that go beyond the Lakers and the seven-game suspension David Stern levied Tuesday on forward Metta World Peace.

Don’t the Nuggets and Mavericks, separated by just a half-game in the Nos. 6 and 7 positions, have to approach their final regular-season games as if they are virtual playoff games?

After all, Atlanta’s victory over the Clippers on Tuesday night locked the Lakers into the No. 3 playoff berth in the Western tournament.

Finish sixth, and the Nuggets or Mavs can face a Lakers team weakened both by World Peace’s grievous lack of on-court judgment and subsequent Lakers misfortune that seems downright karmic.

Don’t you suspect cosmic forces were behind the bad luck that befell Devin Ebanks in the Lakers’ weight room Tuesday morning?

A player who filled in for Kobe Bryant when he missed seven recent games with a sore shin dropped a 55-pound dumbbell and injured the ring finger and middle finger on his right (shooting) hand. He may miss some playoff games, too.

And the sore right ankle that also will keep Lakers small forward Matt Barnes out of Thursday’s regular-season finale in Sacramento?

That seems like more voodoo aimed at a team paying karmic dues for the negative forces that inhabited World Peace’s head Sunday.

The alternative for the Nuggets or Mavs is seventh place and a matchup with the second-place Thunder, who may be without James Harden for some playoff games. The presumed winner of the Sixth Man Award will have to be cleared by Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan and head of the NBA’s concussion program, before playing again. Under the league’s new concussion protocols, that is never a given.

Seven games seems about three games light as penalty for World Peace’s actions when he leveled Harden with a vicious elbow to the head.

I suspect Stern was talked out of a stiffer penalty for a recidivist offender by those he consulted before making his decision. Some who have been in the inner circles in Olympic Tower have suggested as much.

But the fact that Harden suffered a concussion — at a time when everyone involved in sports seems acutely aware of the long-term danger of head injuries — argued for something more. If Harden’s head had been turned, just slightly, couldn’t he have suffered a fractured eye socket? How many more games would that have added to MWP’s banishment?

Hadn’t Stern’s former deputy, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, just sat down a hockey player for 25 games after a vicious hit in a playoff game?

In the end, the commissioner opted for a softer landing for World Peace, a player teammate Bryant swears is “a sweet guy.” Maybe he feels that if the Lakers can get out of the first round without their best perimeter defender, they deserve a chance to go farther.

Or maybe Stern recalled the days of clothesline takedowns in the NBA Finals that drew no penalty beyond a personal foul.

Kevin McHale’s forearm that sent Kurt Rambis sprawling during Game 4 of the 1984 Finals wasn’t aimed at the head. With Rambis at full speed on a fast break when McHale sent him sprawling, he could have suffered an injury as serious as Harden’s.

The result: Two free throws for Rambis.


Then, Stern was in his very first season as commissioner, a 41-year-old who may have been too new to the job to risk angering Red Auerbach.

McHale was back on the court for Game 5, and his Celtics went on to another championship.


Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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