NBA reviewing actions of Kobe, Fisher, Artest and Alston

Update: The NBA suspended Fisher and Alston one game each. Kobe wasn’t suspended — shocker!

Stu Jackson is a busy man today. He’s responsible for reviewing the tape and doling out the suspensions and fines, if necessary. Apparently, he’s looking at four different plays from last night’s action: Rafer Alston’s slap to the back of Eddie House’s head, Derek Fisher’s premeditated shoulder block on Luis Scola, Kobe Bryant’s flying elbow to the neck/chest of Ron Artest, and Artest’s subsequent confrontation with Kobe when he was (somehow) called for the foul.

From the replay, it looked to me that Alston was responding to an elbow from House as House celebrated his made shot. House is a pretty annoying player — in fact, my buddy LaRusso pretty much despises him — and the little elbow to the gut was like salt in Alston’s wounds. Technically, he didn’t throw a punch, which is why there’s a question about whether or not he’ll be suspended, but you can’t go around slapping people in the head. If they do suspend him, I hope they fine House for instigating the event with the elbow. It was bush league.

I wrote about the Rockets/Lakers “chippiness” last night, and my feelings haven’t changed much. I think Fisher should be suspended for a game due to the premeditated nature of the hit he laid on Scola. Jackson should also take a hard look at Kobe’s elbow because it looked intentional and up in the neck area. As for Artest, I don’t think he should have been ejected as he didn’t throw any elbows or punches, and the decision to eject him probably cost the Rockets any chance they had at winning the game. Between the foul call on Artest and his ejection, it wasn’t the best moment for that officiating crew.

One thing is for sure — the Rockets and Lakers are already sick of each other, and we’re still very early in the series. If this thing goes six or seven games, expect a lot more of this kind of action.

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Artest ejected, Lakers win

This game was a lot closer than the final score (111-98) would indicate.

With about seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up 10, Kobe and Artest were fighting for position under the basket and Kobe caught Artest in the throat with an elbow. (It looked intentional to me.) Amazingly, Artest was called for a foul, and when the ref wouldn’t listen to him, he went over and confronted Kobe about it. Artest protested too long for Joey Crawford, who tossed him. Not a smart play by Artest to keep pressing the point, but he deserved a technical, not an ejection. He needs to keep his composure in that situation, but really, does anyone actually expect him to?

Late in the third quarter, Derek Fisher threw a shoulder into Luis Scola, who was approaching him to set a pick. While Doug Collins was marveling about Fisher’s “toughness,” I was thinking about how dumb of a play it was. It was clear that he was seeking Scola out and dead set on laying a hit on him. In the age of replay, when officials can make a judgment based on the video, it’s not worth getting that shot in, even if you’re trying to make a statement. The Lakers subs have struggled of late — what if his team needed him in the fourth quarter? Hell, he deserves to be suspended.

The whole thing with Scola started earlier in the game, but I’m not sure when. Before Fisher’s shoulder block, Lamar Odom was jawing at Scola after he blocked the Argentine’s shot. On a later play, Scola fouled Odom on the way to the hoop and the two exchanged words. Then Luke Walton came over to talk to Scola. Then Sasha Vujacic came over. Fisher’s “flagrant 2” was on the ensuing play.

The other thing I want to mention is the play of Kobe Bryant. He shot the ball well, hitting 16 of 27 shots en route to a 40-point game. But what bothers me is that all season we keep hearing about how important another title is to him, yet there he is jawing at Shane Battier after every bucket and saying, “he can’t guard me!” This is a team game, but once again, Kobe makes it about Kobe. Why can’t he let his brilliant play speak for itself? The important thing is that the Lakers tied the series, not that he can score at will on Battier.

Looking ahead, the Lakers were effective in limiting Yao Ming (12 points) because they fronted him in the post. In that situation, the Rockets’ immediate read should be to turn the ball to the other side of the court. Yao seals his man (who is in front of him) and there should be an easy entry pass into the post. Tonight, Houston played into the Lakers’ hands by keeping the ball on the same side of the court and Yao didn’t have a chance to have a big impact on the game.

Magic, Rockets steal Game 1’s on the road

By now you know that the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets each managed to win Game 1 on the road, but what you may not know is how exactly they managed to pull those wins out.

Orlando rode a 30-17 second quarter to an 18-point lead at halftime, and led by as many as 28 (65-27) with nine minutes to play in the third quarter before the Celtics finally showed up to play. Boston whittled the lead down to four with two minutes to play, but a timely drive by Rafer Alston and four straight free throws by J.J. Redick helped the Magic hold on for the win.

Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo each went 2 of 12 from the field, so most of the Celtics’ scoring was left to Paul Pierce who finished with 23 points on 7 of 18 shooting. Boston simply wasn’t sharp; it might have been fatigue or maybe it was just one of those nights. Dwight Howard finished with 16 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks, and the C’s simply didn’t have an answer for him inside. Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Rafer Alston combined to shoot 17 of 45 (38%) from the field, so it’s not like Orlando was running on all cylinders, either.

Meanwhile, in L.A., the Rockets capitalized on the Lakers’ flat play. Yao Ming posted 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Ron Artest chipped in with 21 points and seven assists. But the key was the play of point guard Aaron Brooks, who outscored Derek Fisher (19 to eight) and came up with a pair of timely buckets in the fourth quarter. Along with Kyle Lowry, the Rockets have quickness in the backcourt that the Lakers can’t match unless they elect to play Shannon Brown and/or Jordan Farmar.

Shane Battier did a nice job defensively on Kobe Bryant, who scored 32 points but didn’t really get going until the Lakers were in scramble mode late in the game. He had seven points in the last 1:32, so without those makes, he was 12 of 29 (41%) for 25 points. Pau Gasol (14 points), Lamar Odom (9 points) and Andrew Bynum (10 points) all had relatively quiet games, which allowed the Rockets to spring the upset. In Artest, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes and Yao Ming, the Rockets have one of the best defensive front lines in the league, so they have the personnel to slow down the Laker big men.

Watch Battier’s hands when he defends Kobe’s jumper. He essentially sticks his hand right in Kobe’s face, almost as if he’s about to poke Kobe in the eye. This can be distracting to a shooter, though I’m sure Bryant has seen it time and time again. Battier has the quickness and strength to keep Bryant out of the lane (most of the time, anyway) and the Rockets know they have a chance against the Lakers if they can turn Kobe into more of a shooter and less of a scorer.

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