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.