[caption id="attachment_8242" align="alignnone" width="512" caption="If the Thunder and Lakers make it to the second round, James Harden and Metta World Peace will once again share the court. Could tempers flare?"]
If the Thunder and Lakers make it to the second round, James Harden and Metta World Peace will once again share the court. Could tempers flare?
[/caption] With Metta World Peace receiving a seven-game game suspension for his vicious elbow to the head of James Harden, the Lakers forward could be back in time for a potential second-round series against the Thunder. And that could be a problem. No one on the Thunder will forget what World Peace did to Harden. And by allowing World Peace to return for what already would be an intense playoff series, the league is risking emotions rising and retaliation being served up. World Peace will begin serving his suspension Thursday in the Lakers' season finale at Sacramento. He must then sit out the next six games in which he is eligible and physically able to play. So if the Lakers get swept in the first round, World Peace must sit out the first two regular season games next season. Should the Lakers get knocked out in the first round, crisis averted. But all signs point to the Thunder and Lakers being on a collision course to meet in the semifinals. OKC is locked into the 2-seed in the Western Conference playoffs. L.A. is locked into the 3-spot. Both teams are widely believed to be able to beat whichever first-round opponent they draw between Dallas, Denver and Utah. If they do, we're looking at a second round series that will be filled with story lines and possible some good old fashion get back. NBA Commissioner David Stern said on his annual pre-playoff conference call today that the league has "reason to believe that James will be available for the playoffs." Of course, Stern and his staff would know. The Thunder must consult with the league and its appointed doctor who oversees the NBA's concussion program before Harden can be cleared to return. Thus, the villain and the victim could soon be reunited on a court near you.
But there are two reasons to believe payback won't be administered by the Thunder. First, the Thunder isn't built that way. This is a franchise that has created a blueprint on how to look beyond any and all bull. OKC has been incredible at remaining focused on a singular goal and that is improving each day in its quest for a title. Secondly, scrutiny in a potential Thunder-Lakers semifinals, because of Sunday's altercation, will be intense. And you can bet that any hard foul will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Perhaps for those reasons, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he's not worried about a potential playoff meeting with World Peace and the Lakers. "I’m not concerned who we play as long as we play as hard as we can and play to the best of our abilities," Brooks said. "You can’t focus on matchups, you can’t focus on individual players. You’ve got to play them well. And in order to win big in this league, a championship in the league, you have to go through some very good teams. And you have to go through four of them. And it’s not easy. And potentially, it could be 28 extra games to get to where you want to get to." Brooks was then asked if he had to talk to his team at halftime Sunday about retaliation. "That’s not something that we talked about," Brooks said. "We just talked about going on and playing good basketball and making them miss and finish the game strong." And going forward? "We play basketball. That’s what we get paid for. Everything else is just extra," said Thunder guard Royal Ivey. "So when things go down like that, you as a person get upset but at the same time you got to kind of channel those feelings because we play basketball we’re not street fighters. That’s not called for. We just got to react in the right manner." Sunday's showdown came close to turning into a street fight. Almost immediately after World Peace sent Harden crashing to the court, Russell Westbrook ran toward World Peace and Serge Ibaka followed. Ibaka and World Peace exchanged words, with World Peace entering into a fighting stance. "That’s just instincts," Ivey said. "If something happens to one of your brothers, anywhere, you’re going to run to his defense. That’s just what it is. And we’re brothers in here. If a guy goes down, we want to be there to help him up. That was just a natural reaction. Anybody would have reacted like that going into the defense of your brother." A hotly-contest second-round series would only enhance the emotions. And it's been proven, time and again unfortunately, that anything can happen when No. 15 for the Lakers is on the court, whether he's World Peace or Ron Artest. Stern, however, stood behind by his decision to sit the Lakers forward for seven games. He said previous penalties, who's involved in the altercation, the seriousness of the injury and "whatever else is in the atmosphere" all factored into his decision. "In light of all of the considerations, and in light of past suspensions and fitting it in some place, seven seemed to be about the right number; with full knowledge that if seven is OK then six or eight probably could have been justified the same way," Stern said. "And it's my job to say seven. I think the seven was larger than some people might have thought from just an elbow. And I think that in many cases people who thought that this was so horrible that it should result in a lifetime ban. But at the end of the day, I have to close the door and say 'OK, what's justice here and what's fairness here?' And I came up with seven." Soon, the league might need to be on guard for Thunder players possibly seeking their own justice. -DM-