Basketball picksDecember 19, 2006

The fight, the fallout and the fix.

Over the weekend, the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks were involved in a jaw-dropping display of poor sportsmanship. The scene was ugly, as players exchanged punches. All hell broke loose and by the time the players were separated, 10 ejections had been handed out.

By now we have all seen the footage of the hard foul executed on the Denver’s J.R. Smith by New York’s Mardy Collins that initiated the donnybrook.

Sadly, scenes like the one that played out late in the game, Saturday night are gaining national attention and are being replayed in the living rooms across the US. Children see their idols and role models – yes, for better or for worse and like it or not – role models, acting out in this manner.

This time it was not only the players that contributed to the debacle. It has been reported that Knicks head coach -former NBA superstar Isaiah Thomas, warned the Nugget’s star Carmelo Anthony to stay out of near-basket crowds in the paint – or be fouled and fouled hard.

Thomas, who has been given one year to “show significant progress,” by team owner James Dolan – or lose his job, was upset that Denver still had four starters on the floor while up 19-points with 1:15 left to play. That’s when Mardy horse-collared Smith and threw him to the floor. Smith popped up and the two began to exchange words. Players gathered around – trying to separate the two as they tumbled into the courtside-seats and just as the scrum appeared to calm, Anthony threw a punch that connected with Collins’s face, dropping him to the ground.

On Monday morning NBA Commissioner David Stern handed out suspensions like he was handing out Christmas cookies. All-in-all, seven players were suspended, and Anthony received the brunt of the Commissioner’s wrath with a 15-game suspension. Denver’s J.R. Smith and New York’s Nate Robinson each got 10 games – but no punishment for Thomas.

The scene was reminiscent of the horror that occurred a little over two years ago when Ron Artest, then of the Indiana Pacers, fought with members of the audience. Commissioner Stern was quick to make an example of the latest edition of “basket-brawl,” with the suspensions and a $500,000 fine levied on each team. “It’s a more general message that I’m going to start holding our teams accountable,” Stern said.

WHAT NOW? – While the abysmal Nicks (9-17), will suffer during the suspensions and Thomas’s seat gets even hotter, the impact is far greater for the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets trail the division-leading Utah Jazz by four games and will play their next 15-of-17 games at home. The suspension won’t allow Anthony in the Nugget’s lineup until their January 20 game at Houston, one day after a showdown between good-friend and fellow NBA superstar LaBron James, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, was supposed to take place.

Without the team’s leading scorer, 15-games, is a lot of ground for the Nuggets to cover. Denver will definitely miss Anthony’s league leading 31.6 points per game. Combine that with Smith’s 10-game hiatus and you are losing a duo that combines for more than 48-ppg – ouch.

Could the Nugget’s saving grace be disgruntled ex-Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson? The Nuggets have been one of the teams considered in the front running to land the perennial All-Star, and could use Iverson’s 31.2 ppg. Additionally, Iverson could supply that spark, that rallying point for a team that has been ascending the NBA ranks, and is close to finally reaching elite status. If the Nuggets want this season to contribute to that rise, the acquisition of AI might be the thing that saves it.

If not, then there season could be over faster than a one-two punch.