A lot of things have gone right recently for the Los Angeles Lakers. Coming into Wednesday night's game against the Nuggets in Denver, they'd won five games in a row, running their record to 14-14 after weeks under .500. They'd also seen the return of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, two very important players who seemed to be helping the team figure out its various roles and strategies.
Alas, every path includes its roadblocks, and the Lakers ran into one against the Nuggets, losing 126-114 in a game that will raise fresh questions about the L.A. defense. And while there's no great shame in losing this particular game — plenty of teams have trouble playing at Denver's high altitude on the second night of a back-to-back — there is some interest in the fact that Dwight Howard was ejected with just over five minutes left in the third quarter for a Flagrant 2-level foul on Kenneth Faried.
The play itself leaves the severity of Howard's foul open to interpretation. As Faried ventured down the lane with the ball, Howard's hand smacked Faried right in the face. He went down for quite some time, the referees assessed the foul on replay, and determined it worthy of automatic ejection (as all Flagrant 2 fouls are).
We must now wonder if the NBA will hit Howard with a suspension, whether for one game or more. After the jump, check out the differing reactions to the play from Howard and Kobe Bryant, as well as some analysis of the likelihood that the Lakers' center will have to sit out.
Howard, for the record, says the foul lacked the malice we typically associate with ejections. Kobe Bryant appeared to disagree. From Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball, reporting from the scene:
"It was a hard foul," Howard said. "That's all I know. I've been fouled harder than that before and nobody's ever gotten kicked out of the game for it, but I get penalized for fouling people hard. It's basketball."
His teammate, Kobe Bryant, however, thought the ejection was warranted.
"I think it is the right call. I don't think it was extensive enough to warrant a one-game suspension, but I believe it was a flagrant."
It's tempting to turn any disagreement between these players as a barely concealed feud, but in a league where everybody gets fined for disputing calls on the court to the press it's possible that Bryant just wanted to avoid giving up some money. Plus, he argues that Howard doesn't deserve a suspension, so it's not as if he's openly bickering with a teammate.
The ejection might not have been warranted — Howard's correct that far worse things happen on the court without bringing that penalty — but it's certainly something that's happened before for fouls of this order.
The issue of a potential suspension is also up for debate, but the typical NBA reaction suggests Howard will go unpunished. As noted by Ben Golliver at The Point Forward, "unnecessary and excessive" contact is a fine descriptor of this foul. However, suspensions usually require more extensive contact, such as an elbow or outright shove or punch. It doesn't appear that Howard was doing anything of that sort — this was just a dangerous foul.
On the other hand, the rationale behind NBA suspensions is becoming less obvious with every announcement of punishment. It's very possible that Howard will lose a game because of this foul. If he does, we shouldn't act too surprised. Like this foul, it's the kind of thing that happens in the NBA these days.
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