The other shoe didn’t drop Saturday.
League officials spent the day conducting an investigation of the Kobe Bryant-Reggie Miller fight after Friday night’s Laker-Indiana Pacer game at Staples Center, but they weren’t ready to reach any conclusions on disciplinary action.
Bryant, who struck Miller after the final buzzer had sounded, faces an automatic one-game suspension for throwing the punch, meaning he will not play in tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.
But officials could assess Bryant additional games since the punch initiated a wild scene that resulted in referee Ted Bernhardt being knocked down and players from both teams streaming onto the court as Bryant and Miller wrestled onto the scorer’s table.
A longer suspension would deny the Lakers of Bryant’s services against the New Jersey Nets, owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference, in a game Tuesday at Staples Center.
Ostensibly, the players came out to restore order, but Indiana forward Austin Croshere suffered worse than either combatant. In the midst of a pile of players, Croshere emerged with scratches from the back of his neck down to his lower back. And the top of his uniform looked as if it had been in a shredder.
Some Lakers and Pacers could be suspended for leaving the bench to join in a fight, but such a ruling would get into a gray area since the game had already ended, allowing them to leave the bench area.
This is Bryant’s second fight in as many weeks. On a team bus in Cleveland on Feb. 21, Bryant began teasing teammate Samaki Walker about money Bryant was owed from a competitive bet. At least others around them thought it was teasing.
But Bryant, who was seated behind Walker, reached around and punched the power forward under the right eye.
While Bryant’s sudden streak of violence may concern some, his teammates have come to his defense in the latest incident, choosing to circle the wagons rather than point fingers.
“Teams have been coming at us quite a bit,” said guard Derek Fisher. “Basically every night, teams are going to raise their game to another level and try to ... prove a point to us. There really isn’t a point to prove. We are the best team in the league, and a lot of teams ... think that in one game, or on one play, they can take that away from us.
“I think sometimes we get fed up. Shaq [O’Neal] has had a situation this year [when he threw a punch at center Brad Miller, resulting in a three-game suspension] and now Kobe. Guys need to defend themselves and do whatever they feel they need to do to make sure teams don’t feel that they can do whatever they want. We have to make sure that we force them to respect us.”
Force has apparently become an acceptable option for a team obviously feeling the pressure of trying to win its third consecutive NBA title.
Teammate Rick Fox felt Reggie Miller triggered the incident.
“They let us play physical,” Fox said of the officials. “There are going to be cheap shots. Eventually, by the third quarter, guys are going to be grabbing and holding.
“We saw a lot of that down the stretch between Reggie and whoever he was being guarded by. But that is Reggie’s game, and that is nothing new.”
There was a different view by the Pacers. While Miller also faces disciplinary action, his coach, Isiah Thomas, doesn’t think he deserves it.
“I didn’t really see him throw a punch,” Thomas said, “and if he didn’t swing, then you’re allowed to grab the guy that’s swinging at you. You’ve got to protect yourself and defend yourself out on the floor.”