LOS ANGELES — The impact of the vicious elbow Metta World Peace threw Sunday to the head of Thunder sixth man James Harden could be felt into the NBA Playoffs.
Under the NBA's newly instituted concussion policy, Harden can return to the court only after passing a rigorous evaluation process that could take several days.
Once he's considered free of concussion symptoms, Harden must make it through increasing stages of exertion — from riding a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to individual basketball skills — while ensuring the symptoms don't return after each stage.
If Harden passes each test the team then has to consult with Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, the director of the NBA's concussion program, to determine when Harden can return. The NBA's concussion policy went into effect at the start of training camps this season.
The Thunder concludes the regular season at home Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against Denver. The NBA Playoffs begin next weekend.
Harden, who entered the Lakers game averaging 16.9 points, is considered the leading candidate for the NBA's Sixth-Man of the Year Award.
World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, threw his left elbow to the side of Harden's head just after the two came into contact as the Lakers forward began a chest-beating celebration of his dunk late in the first half of the Lakers' 114-106 double-overtime victory. The blow forced Harden to collapse to the court where he remained for quite a while before slowly walking off and immediately being taken to the locker room.
A team spokesman said Harden passed league-mandated testing at halftime, and Harden originally was set to return to the game. But the team's medical staff prevented Harden from returning because of concern with his condition, the spokesman said.
Harden later was diagnosed with a concussion. He was not made available to the media following the game and was unresponsive to multiple attempts to gauge his health when seen outside of the locker room.
Harden did fly back to Oklahoma City with the team. But concussions can be puzzling, making the timeline for Harden's return a mystery to all.
Kobe Bryant sustained a concussion during the All-Star Game when Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade delivered a hard foul to the Lakers star. With a two-day hiatus before the Lakers resumed their regular-season schedule, however, Bryant never missed a game.
But for every speedy recovery like Bryant's, there are cases where athletes endured lingering effects like Minnesota Twins catcher Justin Morneau and Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is another example. Love hasn't played since April 11 and has been shut down for the season after an elbow by Denver center JaVale McGee left him with a concussion.
“It was a bad play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of World Peace. “There's no way around it. It's a dangerous play. It's not a play that should be involved in basketball. And it's unfortunate it happened. I know Ron, but unfortunately it did happen. You can't do that. That's unacceptable.”
World Peace was ejected from the game after the officiating crew reviewed the incident and ruled it a Flagrant 2, which under league rules warrants an automatic ejection.
World Peace attempted to explain his actions in a brief statement to reporters after the game, saying his elbow was an unintentional play.
“During that play I just dunked on (Kevin) Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and I got really emotional and excited and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow,” World Peace said. “I hope he's OK. The Thunder, they're playing for a championship this year, so I hope that he's OK and I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden. You know, it was such a great game and it was unfortunate so much emotion was going on at that time. That's it for today.”
World Peace is expected to receive a suspension. According to NBA rules, in determining whether to impose a fine and/or suspension on any flagrant foul the league office will consider how hard the foul was, the outcome of the foul (whether it led to an altercation) and the level of the injury sustained by the player who was fouled.
“Actions were taken,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “The consequences were there. It was a Flagrant 2 and he got thrown out of the game. It happens. Sometimes it's an intense game. Metta World Peace, he's a good dude so I know he wouldn't try to hurt nobody.”