As many of us know, LeBron James and Isaiah Stewart got into an altercation during a Sunday matchup of Lakers-Pistons. Whether this was intentional or not is up for debate, but the fact of the matter is that it still happened, and a heated argument took place afterwards. Once Stewart saw that he was bleeding, he charged at James, ready to take his head off. The two were separated by the other eight players on the court, as well as both team’s benches and coaching staffs. Both James and Stewart are around 6’9″ and 250 pounds, so it takes a lot of people to restrain them (it also means it would have been a pretty fair fight, except that James is almost 37 and Stewart is 20). Eventually, after enough restraint, Stewart calmed down. End of story.
… Or so we all thought, because it turns out Stewart wasn’t really calm. Stewart still wanted James’ head, so he made everyone think he was fine and then charged at James again. It looked a lot like an NFL running back swerving through defenders, trying not to get taken down. Although he shoved off the first few people that tried to hold him, he was eventually stopped by three coaches and Cade Cunningham, the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. With blood by his eye socket and streaming down his face, Stewart made his way back to the locker room, for it was already a foregone conclusion he was ejected… except he didn’t stop there. Once he was about to exit the floor, pushing off the arm of one of his coaches, Stewart turned around, charging at James while seeing red (literally and figuratively). He got through nearly the entire Pistons’ staff and almost made it to the Lakers end of the floor before he was stopped, and I don’t doubt he would have knocked James unconscious if he had the chance. Eventually, after the third and final time, Stewart and James were both ejected, and play resumed.
When the NBA handed out suspensions, they gave James a one-game suspension, and Stewart two games. This makes sense to me, because while James started the conflict and gave Stewart a bloody eye (I do believe this was an intentional and dirty play), Stewart escalated the conflict by trying to take his head off. Then again, who wouldn’t want revenge on someone who hit them hard in the head with a flying elbow? Despite fights not being a good look for the NBA, I think this one was particularly beneficial to both the Pistons and the Lakers.
Let’s start with the Pistons’ point of view. This game was played in Detroit, and while the city has a bad history of fighting (the Bad Boys Pistons and the Malice at the Palace), this one was helpful in determining team identity. Almost every championship team has one of those players who is a spark, off the bench or as a starter. This player often brings the energy at home and is a fan-favorite with the crowd, although opposing teams often end up hating him. They can, in some instances, be a real pain in the butt, because they will do things that you sometimes question, such as calling out their teammates in public. Some examples of these types of guys are Draymond Green from the Golden State Warriors, Marcus Smart from the Boston Celtics, Patrick Beverly now for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Alex Caruso for the Chicago Bulls, Montrezl Harrell from the Washington Wizards, and many more. The Pistons don’t have their spark guy who is willing to mix it up with anyone, unless you count Kelly Olynyk, who, along with Zaza Pachulia, often seems to be involved in injuring star players. The Pistons may have just found their spark guy, and although it seems to be a smaller role on an NBA team, it’s difficult to win without a spark guy.
As for the Lakers, James’ ejection is showing the team once again what they are missing and where they need to improve. Despite the fight coming a few minutes into the third quarter, the Pistons were up 12 points when the brawl started. The Lakers would end up winning this game, 121-116, but they should have won by a lot more. Yes, the squad was on the road, and James got ejected, but the Pistons are still one of the worst teams in the entire NBA. The Lakers are supposed to be contenders, title favorites. Yet, they can only squeak out a five-point victory on the road to a team who is the 14th seed in the Eastern Conference? Imagine how poorly they would do against a playoff team.
Well, against the New York Knicks, the Lakers had to play in Madison Square Garden without James, and they lost. An unsurprising takeaway? Russell Westbrook had a great statline of 31 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and 2 steals… but they lost. Anthony Davis put up 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists… and they lost. The Knicks were simply the better team, and as I watched this game, I found it interesting that Westbrook shot 50% from three, 88.9% from the free throw line, and 55.6% in total, which was one of his better shooting performances. The Lakers as a team, however, shot 37.4% from the field and 30.6% from three, while the Knicks shot 45.1% from the field and 44.1% from three. In this game, Westbrook did exactly what he was brought in to do with the Lakers, but they still lost.
The Lakers still haven’t learned to play with one another, and more importantly, they haven’t yet figured out how to win with each other. It’s the same as learning how to get A’s in school; if you know the content, but struggle on quizzes and tests, you won’t get good grades. I’m sure the Lakers are great in practice, but in the game, they don’t always get good results.
I’m not going to say Westbrook was a bad addition to the roster, but I know most Laker fans are panicking, and in hindsight, Buddy Hield should have been traded to this team, not Westbrook. I predict that the Lakers will have a much better second half of the season (assuming everyone remains healthy), but we’ve seen Westbrook’s track record in the playoffs, and if the Lakers advance beyond the second round, I’ll be amazed. Westbrook can’t realistically be traded, due to his large contract, so GM Rob Pelinka has to live with what he has. If by the time James retires the team hasn’t one another ring, I think the Lakers may have a new GM.
What do you think about the Lakers and Pistons? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!