Brawl gives NBA another headache

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 25, 2006

By Brian Mahoney

Associated Press

NEW YORK — It was late in the fourth quarter. The New York Knicks were losing badly. The Madison Square Garden crowd was cheering for the Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony.

So by the time Denver’s J.R. Smith went in on another fast break Saturday, the Knicks had had enough.

Mardy Collins figured he’d put a stop to the fun with a hard foul. Instead, it was the start of a wild brawl — the last thing the NBA needed two years after its last melee, and the last thing the Knicks need in a season already spiraling downward.

The fight went from one end of the court to the other. Carmelo Anthony dropped Collins with a punch, Smith and Nate Robinson went flying into the stands while fighting, and six other players were ejected.

Anthony, the NBA’s leading scorer, could be looking at a suspension of more than five games. The NBA was reviewing the incident and interviewing people involved Sunday. It could announce penalties Monday, since both teams play that night.

What caused the meltdown? It seems to come down to this: The Knicks felt dissed.

“The score period, and the guys that they had in,” Robinson said after the game. The Knicks (9-17) didn’t practice Sunday and weren’t commenting further.

Anthony, Camby, Smith and fellow starter Andre Miller were all still on the floor with Denver leading by 19 points with 1:15 to play when Collins prevented Smith from another easy basket by grabbing him by the neck and taking him to the floor.

Smith rose and immediately started jawing with Collins, and Robinson jumped in to pull Smith away. Anthony shoved Robinson away, and Robinson and Smith then tumbled into the front row while fighting.

Just as things appeared to be calming down, Anthony threw a hard punch that floored Collins, and New York’s Jared Jeffries sprinted from the baseline toward halfcourt in an effort to get at Anthony, but was tackled by a Denver player.

By the time security had finally contained Smith, they were nearly at the opposite end of the court from where the altercation started, making it the NBA’s scariest scene since the brawl at Auburn Hills, Mich., between Pacers players and Pistons fans two years ago.

The Knicks weren’t enjoying the show.

Robinson said the Knicks were “just trying to fight, come back from the deficit and they got their star players still in. It’s a slap in the face to us as a franchise.”

The NBA has taken numerous steps to clean up its image after the fiasco in Detroit, implementing a dress code and its community relations initiative NBA Cares last season, and trying to eliminate excessive complaints to officials this season.

With Anthony appearing in marketing campaigns to promote the NBA, the league can’t have him participating in an incident that’s sure to trigger more discussions about all that is still wrong with its players.

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PENALTIES: The NBA shoul rule on penalties today.

Anthony faces an automatic suspension for throwing a punch, and Smith and New York’s Nate Robinson will be penalized for their fight that spilled into the stands.

With so much footage to review and players, coaches and officials to interview, the league probably will need time to make its ruling.

Still, it might well be today since both teams play tonight. The league’s policy has been to rule on any suspensions before the teams involved play their next game.

The Knicks host Utah on Monday; the Nuggets are home against Washington.

Anthony could receive one of the harshest penalties. He twice escalated actions, shoving Robinson in the neck and throwing a hard punch that dropped Collins just when things seemed to be calming down.

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